Sunday, 21 June 2015

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 18!

This post: novel treats from the eras of the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th and 8th Doctors – and all of them in the form of short stories. 
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: Short Trips no.28 – Indefinable Magic, by Various, edited by Neil Corry (Big Finish Short Story Book Collection)
(This was a very pleasing collection to read.  Right from the 1st story, by James Goss, about sentient books going around altering reality to fit their contents, even if those contents were fantasy.  “There’s nothing more dangerous than a book with ideas”, says the 8th Doctor.  Very wry, and nicely played in tone, this story.  The collection had lots of moments of lovely idea expression, like this one: “I would call it something else.  I would examine it, establish its properties and then call it something else.  I would not call it magic, sir” [says the 1st Doctor, can you tell?!]  “…because to call it magic is to turn your back on logic and reason and basic curiosity about the universe.” [- From Eddie Robson’s ‘The Power Supply’.]  That told those people! 

I am going to have trouble keeping this ramble anywhere near succinct, as most of the stories here had something lovely about them, something thought provoking.  Highlights are: Ian Farrington’s ‘Favourite Star’, which was a clever tale about false horoscopes and friendship; Matthew James’ ‘A Hiccup in Time’ which was partially about doing laser eye surgery on Henry VIII.   ‘Shamans’ by Steve Lyons had Leela investigating table tapping via the Fox Sisters.  ‘The Fall of the Druids’ by David N. Smith had the best usage of Kamelion I have yet read; especially when paired with the marvellously self preservatory Turlough.  Simon Guerrier’s ‘Pass It On’ had an especially lovely and evocative first section, with a clever narrative style that I wanted to try and do myself at some point. ‘The Science of Magic’ by Michael Rees has a complicated fantastical magical creature invasion scenario, involving Pertwee and the Brigadier and Liz Shaw. ‘Hello Goodbye’ by Jim Sangster is short and sweet, about the Doctor leaving UNIT, and in which the absence of “any goo to analyse” is mourned.

‘Trial by Fire’ by Mike Amberry has the 6th Dr and Evelyn only just escaping burning at the stake by the Inquisition; a very nice twist on a city of disappeared people.  ‘What Has Happened to the Magic of Dr Who?’ by Gareth Roberts goes through the whole book, parts here and there.  In letter form.  Very funny complaints from viewers of each era as to what is wrong with the current Doctor compared to the one before.  Exhaustive and correct.

Lastly, ‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers’ by Caleb Woodbridge, in which one of the cardinal arguments of religion vs. any other way of thinking is well put:
“It is truth, absolute truth, and every world must know it.”
“If it’s so certain, why don’t you try to convince people by sitting down and chatting to them about it, hmm?” [says 4th Dr.]
“That’s all you offer, Doctor – uncertainty and ignorance.  What kind of freedom is that?”  [replies invading, certain entity.]
…What indeed?  This is a great collection about the magic of Dr Who, the idea of magic as advanced science, the idea of magic as itself, and some other bits between.  Thoroughly enjoyable.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.   Doctor Who: Short Trips, no. 23 – Defining Patterns, by Various, edited by Ian Farrington (Big Finish Short Story Collection)
(Hmm.  Now this felt like it should have been a great collection, all about the butterfly effect, and actions causing far distant unforeseen consequences or the patterns you can see throughout events – or that only the Doctor can see…But it didn’t read well, to me, at all.  Threaded through the whole book is a story of the Doctor and some new UNIT companions in 1957.  This story is supposed to be a pattern in itself, reaching a twisty conclusion in the last story.  I won’t spoiler the end of that continuing thread, because I didn’t think it was very good but someone else might, so I don’t want to ruin it for them.  I found it a predictable end, coming on the heels of some stories that were ambiguous and opaque in the wrong ways, boring ways.

The stories I did like were ‘Time and Tide’ by Neil Corry, where the 7th and Ace save some people from a large illusion; interestingly written.  ‘Losing the Audience’ by Mat Coward had a small section warning against seeing patterns when probability is concerned, that had a good point.  ‘Séance, or Smoking is Highly Addictive, Don’t Start’, by John Davies had a nice message of taking life and holding onto it, even when other people die around you.  ‘The Celestial Harmony Engine’ by Ian Briggs was good, in a very strange overblown romance novel sort of way.

Simon Guerrier’s ‘The Great Escapes’ has Lucie Miller trying and failing to escape a situation many times; the story ends with her about to be executed – the Doctor has not come.  Steven Savile’s ‘Loose Change’ is a nice circular story about the adventure of a coin.  Its symmetry pleased me.  John Dorney’s ‘Lepidoptery for Beginners’ contained the lovely line: “sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from nonsense”, which I often agree with when tired.  Clever little story.

I found this beyond patchy.  Despite the recurring pattern story they were setting up here, many of the stories read simply as excerpts, as unfinished. They read unsatisfying.  Comparing it to the very high quality of the one before…puzzled.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Doctor Who: Vanderdeken’s Children, by Christopher Bulis (BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures)
(This one was an interesting story.  It started off very slowly, and I had troubles getting hooked.  Then it became a sort of scifi story like Alien, when a crew are exploring a spaceship and finding strange puzzles and mysteries – and grisly murders.  So like a sort of Crystal Maze, but violent.  [And lacking the incomparable Richard O’ Brien.]  Then I became interested.  It also had the extra element that the abandoned ship on which these mysteries are taking place has been discovered simultaneously by two nations who hate each other and are at a sort of perpetual military readiness for standoff; both want the ship as salvage.  One is a cruise liner, with civilians that may get hurt.  Both cultures of people are very different.  This leads to allsorts of varied and likeable/ pleasantly annoying sub characters, most of whom get growth if they are not killed.  In the meantime, the Doctor and Sam are trying to solve the puzzle of what the hell is going on, at the same time as trying to prevent an all-out war that will end either or both civilisations.  This all does sound like a mish mash of several different films, but it doesn’t matter, as it’s written engagingly and plausibly.  I enjoyed it, both as a semi horror, a thriller and simply as a good mystery.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   Doctor Who: Timelash, by Glen McCoy (Target Original)
(6th Doctor.  Ehem.  Am I the only one out here who enjoyed both the TV version of Timelash, and thence, also the book?!  Is it really only me?  It was of course, especially interesting once the illustrious Herbert appears, and I did like the spoiler discovery of who he was at the end, it gave me a smile.  I am not one who will criticise the plain sets of the original TV outing, their beige boxiness.  I definitely will not criticise Paul Darrow [ever], and I loved the Richard III haircut, which I did miss seeing in the book, and I had trouble remembering how well he delivered his sibilant lines, so his character to read, was not so interesting.  I imagined with slightly more gusto, the timelash itself and the Borad’s use of it to dispose of mostly anyone.  So I made my own small mental improvements.  But mostly, this is one of those stories where I am perfectly happy with the original and the book doesn’t deviate much at all.  The only thing I would say about the book was that Glen McCoy has a bit of a strange writing style, some odd word orderings within his sentences.  But I am a fine one to talk of such, hmm?  So we’ll let it pass!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
5.   Doctor Who: And the Web of Fear, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
(2nd Doctor.  Now.  I understand that [a] this is one of many people’s favourite stories ever, and since we only got it back recently in its fullness, they love it even more.  And [b], it’s not one of my favourite stories on TV at all.  I felt it dragged a bit, with an overpadded middle, and I got a bit bored waiting for the Great Intelligence to reveal who it was hiding within.  I also got fed up with the military stereotypes of the time: the doughty Sergeant, the cowardly Welshman etc etc, yawn. 

Oddly, I didn’t find this a problem in the book at all.  I found it flowed much better, I couldn’t see the actors making their annoying dated expressions.  I liked several of the subsidiary characters more, and I felt Victoria in particular was less of a contrivance for shifty plot balancing and filling in time, and more of an actual person with plausible reasonings to her actions.  Of course, the one thing the book could not re-create was the joy of those marvellous underground Tube sets, and the atmosphere of menace; or the lovely sound-effect of the web being spun.  Or that infamous and nicely shot battle scene [I love the Brigadier…though obviously, he’s yet to become one].  I’d say this is one of the better Terrance Dicks ones, for not losing nuance of dialogue etc – he does tend to cut out a lot of the banter of the Tom Baker stories, which ruins one of their great strengths, and several companion characterisations.  But here, he did well, I thought.  ACTUAL BOOK.) 
6.   Doctor Who: Rags, by Mick Lewis (BBC Past Doctors Adventures)
(3rd Doctor.  This was a difficult one.  In one sense, it’s almost purely a nasty horror of the kind Shaun Hutson or early James Herbert used to write: its dirty, unkind, menacing, deeply violent and very unsettling – it makes its readers wonder at how much baseness they possess and what would make it come out.

Another factor is that this is basically about class hatred and division, and I read it during the General Election just gone [May 2015], which made it especially piquant [a word I think I have *never* used before].  Being about class divides, resentments and deeply held hatreds, bitterness etc – it obviously had to be the third and most Establishment Doctor, for this story – he was always going to be the number one choice.  That being the case, the oddest thing about this story was that despite the spot on characterisation, the Doctor is barely in this book.  Jo Grant features heavily, and the undoing of her character is a painful thing to read.  The Doctor foolishly leaves her in the danger zone of influence of the strange punk band of class hatred, laying waste by means of mind control through music, to many rich or upper class people its entourage [ever growing] comes across.  Jo is susceptible and she succumbs.  She doesn’t do violence, but she very nearly does, and the reversal of her relationship with the Doctor is sad to read.

It’s not explained why some people simply don’t feel the music’s malign influence, namely Mike Yates [yay, always happy to read Yates], since Benton and even the Brigadier aren’t immune, except that Benton gets a sort of military version and ends up wanting to discipline his own class of people, whereas the Brigadier ends up feeling very murderous towards what we could variate and call Hippy Scum.  I always think, in these stories, you need to be extremely careful how much you mess with the characters of recurring or main players.  Hence Yates comes off ok, as he basically gets to stay himself and be almost the last reasonable person standing in a bloodbath; whereas Jo practically loses her mind with only flashes of lucidity within hatred…and the Doctor, after spending most of the story playing catch up is brought to his knees by the creature himself and gets lost for about 3 chapters more.  Risky and I’m not sure entirely successful.

As a horror this works fine: it’s questioning of society and very unpleasant.  As a horror with the Doctor, I wouldn’t say it works as well as Mark Morris’s Deep Blue, say, but it’s stuck with me.  I want a wash.  For a horror, this is a good thing.  For a Doctor Who novel?  Not so sure it’s sticking with me for the right reasons.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
7.   Doctor Who: Nightshade, by Mark Gatiss (Virgin New Adventures)
(7th Doctor.  This one took me an age to finish and I’m not sure why.  It’s another one where I feel the character of the Doctor got a bit lost amidst a cast of many many subsidiary – and very well written indeed – characters.  He was not a main element of the plot here.  I like the Doctor to be the main thing in a Doctor Who story.  I like the companions to be present much also.  I like a good range of secondary characters.  But I don’t like either the companions or the secondary characters running the show, and this was what happened here [and, by the way, is the entire writing premise of new Who – as well as great whacking dollops of EMOTION, too much for this one here who will cry at anything…I am moved to think of the Matt Smith new Who ep where we defeated the cybermen with love.  I can see the idea, but it’s too drippily sugary, even for me, and I am a sugar lover.  Anyway…].

Saying that, even though the Doctor is not as big a player as I like, Gatiss does create some lovely people for me to get to know.  I love his old men characters – he does love and respect the older person, Mark Gatiss, which is rare and rather lovely in a writer nowadays [think The Last of the Gadarene too – another plucky and excellent older man].  The character of Trevithick is wonderful: resourceful, realist: I really rooted for him.  Hawthorne, Vijay, Holly, Cooper – all the scientists, a great and well differentiated cast.  The vast amount of villagers were well done.  Poor old Jack Prudhoe. [They all had brilliant names too.]

Ace was an odd thing here.  She has a romantic attachment, so there’s echoes to both Remembrance of the Daleks and also Curse of Fenric, and Gatiss is well done to mention her earlier developments as a character in the Timewyrm section of the New Adventures.  And yet – I do feel that Ace’s personality keeps chopping and changing from tale to tale; unlike Sam in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, for contrast, who is markedly and plausibly changing, story by story, and we can see why: every move backward and forward is painted, understandably.  To follow a character’s growth this way is always great for a reader, satisfying.  Even watching why a character cannot grow, if well painted, is fascinating.  With Ace, despite the fact she has/had such potential, I feel writer after writer in this series is simply using her as filler – she’s either the grumpy feisty teen of how we first ever see her in Dragonfire, almost a sort of developmentally stuck but bolshey 15 year old; or else she’s a battle weary semi soldier.  And none of it much is genuinely shown or explained in either dialogue or action.  She just comes off as a bit schizophrenic between books: each story doesn’t affect her to the next one – she resets.  I think this series is failing Ace.  Not just this book.  The continuity between them, from book to book to book.  A shame, I love Ace.

In short, this book is a wonderful set of characters, with a very nice Civil War interlude I didn’t see coming, but it doesn’t have a strong Doctor or Ace element to pull it along.  Which is to its detriment.  Try it, you might well completely disagree with me.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post as usual, Wendy, thanks! As a relative newcomer to the Who universe (for last 10 years or so; I see most of my Who eps on BBC America), I haven't read any of the stories you mentioned. But your summaries remind me just how incredibly imaginative British sci fi and fantasy is and *always has been*. Back when American studios were cranking out Giant Insect flix by the score, Brit studios were coming up thoughtful, even philosophical stuff, and of course now I can't think of a single title .... what's that one from the late 50's, I think, about the Martian artifact found in the London Underground that infects psyches? Anyway, from Colin Wilson to D Adams, just superior stuff. Brit sci fi/fantasy seemed to have caught on to -or paralleled) - the Jorge Luis Borges influence way before America did. Okay, there was Forbidden Planet, a superior American sci fi film (which Wendy despises because of one single line, but hey, who's perfect :)) , but overall, seems to me that the British sci fi/fantasy imagination is just plain superior. Def more fun! Of course your literary tradition goes way back. Gardening prbly helps, too.