Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 19!

This post: treats from the eras of the 1st, 2nd,4th,  5th and 7th 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: Enlightenment, by Barbara Clegg (Target Original)
(5th Doctor.  At a total loss as to what to say about this one.  Except: I loved it on TV, thought it was a very original and odd idea, that felt natural and weird at the same time.  And then I read it and loved that too – a perfect carry over of the tone and style.  Barbara Clegg writes just as well in novel form as for TV script.  I loved to see Tegan confused and wrong-footed by Mariner’s unwanted attentions – her very genuine short-changing of him and no attempt to play games or even understand him, was so *her*.  And Turlough’s final unmasking and his choice of the Doctor in the end, his realisation that he truly liked and admired the Doctor – that was just as satisfying to read as it was to watch.  And of course, I can’t forget Wrack’s voluptuous greed, and Striker’s robotic detachment as performances, and as I read, I was seeing them again, so well cast as they were.  The whole thing was a bit of a fever dream, but written very clearly.  I really like this unlikely story. 

More and more as I read through Davison’s era, I realise I very much like the stories and angles he was given to work with; a shame that I didn’t enjoy him as the Doctor at the time, and good that I do now.  His abrupt and thoughtful manner I now find endearing, with Tegan and Turlough as perfect foils in their separate ways.  Image below from:
them0vieblog.com ACTUAL BOOK.)

2.   Doctor Who: The Dark Path, by David McIntee (Virgin Missing Adventures)
(2nd Doctor, Jamie, Victoria.  I am going to go right against the grain here. This is one of the hardest to locate and buy Missing Adventures, and it’s pricey.  It cost me a fair bit to get this book.  And I was really disappointed with it.  I’m aware this is one of the most highly regarded of the whole series, as it shows Roger Delgado’s Master, before he was the Master.  How he becomes the Master.  In this story he is called Koschei.

I’m a bit at a loss to explain why this one fell so completely flat for me.  To begin, the set up is painted extremely clearly.  I had been doing a huge Deep Space 9 binge before I started reading this one, and the terms used felt very up to date for the late 90s sci-fi; they fit right in.  The worlds of both Darkheart, a lost colony of Earth’s long gone Empire, and the various spaceships and their inhabitants felt competent and real.  I enjoyed a lot of the subsidiary characters: Captain Sherwin, the Pack Mother, the Adjudicator Hakkuth, Ipthiss, Salamanca…there were many beautifully drawn characters.  Different races: Draconian, Terileptilians [I have a feeling I just fudged that one!], and several other races familiar to us from other stories.  A Federation under strain, worries about an Empire reforming, power struggles played out in miniature but with huge consequences – these are all well done and familiar themes, all in play here.

In addition, Victoria is handled well in this story: even though she does spend a lot of time crying, wandering about lost and generally wishing she was not there, was somewhere safe – this is handled not as a matter of lazy characterisation, but as a prefacing of her attitudes in the story this story is supposed to come before: Fury From the Deep.  It shows her vulnerability, her uncertainty at why she is travelling.  She ends up with Koschei for much of the book, listening to his slow descent into…I am reluctant to say evil, and prefer to say misguided power craziness, and some of the time, she is deluded by him, some of the time she questions, but it all plays into her increasingly vulnerable state.

The Master’s birth here, enacted in the final chapter, and his friendship with the Doctor devaluing itself into a rivalry followed by enmity…again, well written and believable.  You can hear Roger Delgado talk, in these lines.  You can believe his attachment to his companion Ailla, and his distress at her ‘death’.  But…

Nonetheless, it all left me cold, I never really got into it, it took me 5 months on and off to read it.  There was much technobabble, many interesting techno lash ups from the Doctor [himself an umbrella wielding, hopping fool/genius – another good portrayal of Troughton’s oh so changeable Doctor], lots of changing sides and distrust and learning, on behalf of all the characters.  A particularly affecting scene where Sherwin has watched a battle and notes the beautiful colours of the weapon blasts, the silence of people just not being there any more, the way the ships blast open like eggshells, the people burned away in an instant.  Small not overdone moments.  Several scenes were this good.

And yet…I was relieved to finish it.  Despite the characters being involving, interesting and sympathetic, the plot being coherent and twisty…I was not involved.  I was not happy to go back to the book, I was feeling no emotion concerning the fate of these well written characters.  Usually, a book fails for me if I don’t feel caring for the characters.  It can have no plot and I’m ok if I am involved with the characters and want to hang out with them.  Same with plot – it can be silly or sublime, and if I am happy with it, I can rattle along.  Both these elements were present: good characters and a clever and interesting plot.  There was no excessive cruelty or excessive sentimentality to annoy me.  The writing was measured, intelligent and on occasion moving.  Yet I was unmoved by the experience of the book as a whole, and happy to see the back of it.  I really am at a loss to explain that.  Will sell, so someone else can enjoy.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Doctor Who: Colditz, by Steve Lyons (Big Finish Monthly Plays, no.)
7th Doctor. This was a solid and workmanlike WW2 story.  I’m sure I’ve commented before that the historicals seem to work particularly well in Doctor Who, both on TV and via audio.  Just something that seems to work well as a genre splice: time travel and past events, locations.  On top of that, there seems to be a neverending fascination with WW2 that I am sometimes interested by and sometimes at a loss to explain.  Not to say its unimportant at all, just to say there are lots of other events we could continually return to as pivotal, but we seems to less so than with this one.  I am not a big fan of war films, though a few classics usually divert me [am particularly a fan of the scene in A Bridge Too Far where the completely outnumbered English are met by a larger German delegation and ask if they have come to offer their surrender, apologising they don’t have enough men to take them all prisoner; I think it was simply the whimsical jet black humour of that that I fell for].

The atmosphere here feels very like a classic war film: the officers duty is to try to escape; there’s lots of appropriate sounding music; lots of filmic sounding Germanic accents, and cut glass upper class tones.  These sound particularly nice against Ace’s relentless informality, earnestness and irreverence, especially when dealing with the German officers.  You wonder whether you would actually feel that insouciant were you really in that situation: regardless of who won the war and you know it, the fact is, it isn’t over yet and you are in 1944, not 1945, and whilst people do escape from Colditz, there you are, in a maximum security prison.  Being spunky cos that’s your character remit; trying to escape, cos that’s what you’d do. 

That’s why I said this is workmanlike – there’s nothing surprising or wrong footing or layered about any of the characters or their reactions to things.  We aren’t surprised when the German lady turns out to be from a dimension where the Germans occupy England, this seems like the sort of thing that would happen in this story. I wish this story had been written by Kate Orman – then we would have had some insight into why the characters are as they are, and why Ace decides to be grown up and be Dorothy McShane for no apparent reason, and seems so sad at the end…it wouldn’t have just been a story, a yarn, it would have been a story that made us think.

However, within the workmanlike aspects is David Tennant, being quite evil and doing a very good German accent – I didn’t recognise him and was impressed when I checked the credits at the end; and Tracey Childs as Klein sounds wonderful.  There’s some very Sylvester exchanges with Klein about the nature of genocide and do the ends justify the means etc.  All the things you’d expect from a war film of a certain era…I didn’t love this, but it passed the time pleasingly.  I had the feeling though, that it COULD have been great, were it written a little more thoughtfully.  ON DOWNLOAD.)
4.   Doctor Who: The Death Pit, by A.L. Kennedy (short story in the digitally individually released ‘Time Trips’ series)
(4th Doctor.  I was a bit discombobulated by the style of this story.  I’m a great fan of unnecessary extra words in sentences myself [as I am sure you are all tired of knowing].  So is A.L. Kennedy, and until I got into her rhythm, I found it annoying.  Until I found it charming.

In this story, set in a golf course in Arbroath, Tom Baker, all very much teeth and hair here, has his mind interfered with by a creature that we eventually discover has been accidentally augmented/ mutated by one of the other subsidiary characters.  There’s some nice phraseology here:  “all his thoughts seemed a bit sticky, or clumped, or hairy, like boiled sweets left in a jacket pocket”. This needs fixing, as the creature is grumpy, due to feeling too much rage.  The solution is saccharinely new Who style [yes, I am again remembering that dreadful cyberman episode where the cybermen were defeated by lurve], but in this case it is relevant as the creatures malady is emotional.  So it does work.  Tom Baker decrees: “we need to love it.  We need to be very very fond of it indeed.”

At base, to climb on a totally unbidden soapbox, I think this would work on everyone on Earth, even people like IS…but I’m too scared to even try it.  Hence partly the reason is doesn’t work!  Yet.  We’re all too scared to try being gentle and kind; this is 8/10s of the Earth’s problems I reckon. If we showed each other more observable kindness, genuine kindness, we probably wouldn’t behave so shittily to one another so often, treating each other as repositories or obstacles to/for greed, destruction, selfishness.  And there endeth the Simplicistic Sermon. Er…

Once you get into this style, this story is sweet and self contained.  The companionless Doctor spends most of the story admiring Bryony and humans in general, and talking in a very Douglas Adams era way, playful and bantery.  It’s a light, verging on superficial story.  Also quirky, amusing and gentle.  ON KINDLE.)
5.   Doctor Who: The Anti-Hero, by Stella Duffy (short story in the digitally individually released ‘Time Trips’ series)
(2nd Doctor. This is set in the Museum of Alexandria. An odd story.  The Doctor, along with Zoe and Jamie arrive to view the library, to find some mechanical Muses have been created, which are amplifying whatever their chosen quality is – people are falling about laughing, the Doctor uncontrollably; being moved to tears by poetry, of which Jamie starts writing an epic example, and Zoe can suddenly dance expertly, ecstatically.

The cause of all this chaos is a magician and illusionist called Hero, who has created the Muses as an experiment in thought control.  The actual real Muses are not very happy about this misuse of the idea of themselves, especially since Hero is powering the wood and metal pretend Muses with actual human hearts.  [Indeed, it makes no sense.] The real Muses, who are aliens of course, come once called by the Doctor, with Zoe’s help, and rebuke Hero, bringing back to life anyone killed by the experiments. This story was so slight as to almost not be there.  Zoe was characterised well, but the story just seemed to roll off me, in a bit of a meh way.  ON KINDLE.)
6.   Doctor Who: A Big Hand for the Doctor, by Eoin Colfer (BBC 50th Anniversary short stories, released singly)
(1st Doctor. The Doctor has been given a bio-hybrid hand and isn’t happy with it.  It’s also a woman’s hand complete with long red fingernails.  He wants a flesh and blood one.  His original hand has been taken by a Soul Pirate – disreputable creatures who use drugs to kidnap and confuse children.  They then drain their brains and dismember them, using all till none is left and every scrap used for something.  Murderous space Wombles, sort of. In this story, the Doctor is hunting them, hence the hand loss.

He gets back from getting the temporary hand to find that Susan too has been kidnapped by them, whilst looking after some at risk children.  Oddly, this is the third story in a row I’ve read where people are controlled by visions, illusions and emotional states created for them by an outside agent..  these ones are overwhelming and lurid, and easier to live within than stopping actual bad things from happening.  Quite timely and appropriate in this world.  [I read an article the other day where Alan Moore criticized the current obsession for superhero films with grown-ups, stating these creatures are meant for children and are a hangover of the last century, stopping people from engaging with vital issues in today’s world, by immersing themselves in understanding vast fictional universes, where evils are constantly and cathartically reversed – while we do nothing in actuality.  Obviously that can apply to all readers too, in a way.  It’s a hard criticism, and one we should all think about; whether we have the right balance between resting and escapism, and dealing with the things in our parts of the world that need addressing.]

Anyhow, the doctor single-handedly [pun, sigh] saves Susan and the children, and defeats the space recyclers.  In a little denouement, an author saw these events: children rising in stardust, a pirate battling a man with a hook for a hand…and he went on to re-do these events in a famous story.  I wasn’t terribly impressed here.  ON KINDLE.)
7.   Doctor Who: Primeval, Lance Parkin (Big Finish Monthly, no 26)
5th Doctor.  For the first time in a while, with these lone stories, I’m feeling a sort of story being patched in thematically between them.  In this one Nyssa is ill and has been taken to Traken, to see if her own healers can do anything for her.  This illness hasn’t just come from nowhere, which is why its ok to have her ill with no explanation at the very beginning of the 1st episode: it echoes her unsteadiness in Four to Doomsday, and then again in The Mutant Phase, the earlier Big Finish play.  It even helps to explain why Nyssa had to sleep during Kinda.  [Don’t we fans love that – retro continuity, explaining what was doubtless a funding decision at the original classic era?!  I’m happy to buy it as this explanation is less annoying and lazy for me, an annoyingly in some ways perfectionist fan!]  The Doctor consults the TARDIS’s information stores, which indicate that the best ever healer on Traken lived eons before Nyssa: before there were ever Keepers.  Shayla is the name of the healer: really well portrayed by Susan Penhaligon.  She thinks Nyssa is possessed – this is long before the Trakenites were scientific.  

There are various things in this quiet story that make it a good listen.  Odd bits of silly character stuff: Nyssa teaches a fellow character how to Charleston, and when the Doctor comes in, he notes sniffily that the “mark of a gentleman is that he knows how to Charleston – and doesn’t”, before going off to do useful things.  The way the story eventually falls out – neatly coming round to how the first Keeper came to be, is satisfying.  I don’t want to spoiler the story, so won’t say anymore. This play was neither epic, nor incredibly well-written – but it was well played and listenable, and filled a retro hole, explaining some things about Nyssa and Traken, in to my mind, a pleasing way.  It had good characterisation. Yes, it could have shown more fire, I suppose – but as an undramatic but well characterised entry, I was pleased with it.  ON DOWNLOAD.)

As a slight change to scheduled programming - the next Dr Who post will be a Special - not the afore-promised Companions Special, which I still haven't finished, but a Tom Baker Special, since I have a craving, recently, to do lots more Tom.  You know the feeling - must have more teeth and hair and that smile.  That scarf.  Those companions of his.  Anyway - the next Doctor post, when it comes, will be lots of him, both book and audio. 

  There's been a summer holiday hiatus - with the ferrying back and forth of the ever more needing to be happily occupied Fluffhead, hence this post containing so many short stories and audio instead of meaty books.  And then there was a complete loss of self on my part in first Sons of Anarchy, then Breaking Bad (yes I am aware I am many years late to both - its on purpose), followed by quite a lengthy fixation on the Phil Rickman Merrily Watkins book series (do go and check that out, well worth a read if you are into horror, or ghosty things, or theology, or psychology, or mysticism, or folklore, or British countryside as a creepy thing...or just damn well written characters...and I've just found out they are going to ruin it for TV...they better not get it wrong!).  And then of course, the infernal job hunting I'm doing - so that I keep feeling there's no point even starting to write anything as any minute I will have no more time ever again, between work and childcare.  But you know, I shall be less catastrophic and take it day by day, and keep on trucking here..  Writing about books and films and occasionally, *me*.  You poor souls.

Anyway, till next time, which hopefully won't have such a startling gap as a Whole Month!

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