Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Dr Who Books Read and Heard, Part 21! CAPALDI SPECIAL!

In a break from what I’ve already been doing with the Doctors – sticking to the classics only, I’m going to do something different here.  I love Peter Capaldi as an actor and have for ages.  So I was excited and happy to see him be the new Doctor.  All the better for knowing he loved the show himself and it wasn’t just a another job, but something he was very happy to do.  I have been irritatingly dis appointed with the sorts of stories and script writing he’s been presented with on TV.  I can’t really quantify my unease – too much grandstanding and speechifying; too much over emphasis on the companion; just…too much analysis and self-referential writing.  Too knowing, but missing important things at the same time. There’s a dissonance I am finding unsatisfying, just personally.  Not his fault at all; he’s working with what he’s been given, and very well.  There’s been some lovely lines and very good moments, but I wouldn’t buy any of the series and I’ve felt frowny after watching them.  So I thought I’d see if the books that are coming out during his tenure are any better.  Here’s my thoughts on whether they were:

As always with these rambly reviews: OFTEN LARGE SPOILERS ON ALL BOOKS IMMINENT!!!!

1.    Doctor Who: Lights Out, by Holly Black (BBC 50th Anniversary Special short stories)
(12th Doctor.  A sweet and surprising story about murder, puberty and coffee.  And what counts as a monster and what you do about it if you think you are one.  I’m a great fan of Holly Black, having read all her YA fiction, and she doesn’t disappoint here.  In few words, a whole character is created.  This is sharply and unsentimentally written.  And a great capturing of Capaldi’s Doctor as a bit manic – sort of halfway between Tom Baker and Sylvester, with a bit of his own self thrown in [the anger, I’d suggest].  Good story – short, sweet, bit sad.  ON KINDLE.)
2.   Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror, by Mike Tucker (BBC 12th Doctor series)
(Very good indeed.  Several things occur to me: that this is how good Capaldi could have been on TV if he had been given a properly coherent story, a good snappy script.  This is the sort of story that Who can do very well – the Something Bad and Scary Is Happening In  A Perect English Village story.

In this case – enormous insects: spiders, mosquitoes, beetles, crane flies and eventually, scorpions.  This is very nicely paced and has a plausible set of villains.  People forget how important it is for a villain to be plausible in this era of Marvel and DC everywhere.  This story feels like it could have and would, fit perfectly into Pertwee’s or Tom Baker’s era, especially with the degree of military involvement.  Despite Capaldi’s unhappiness to see them, they are a pivotal part of this story and they behave well – proper consideration for the lives of the zombiefied villagers, no mass killings for expediency or security’s sake. 

Also, here, the story doesn’t suffer from what new Who on TV does, which is a complete overfocus on the companion.  Clara here, is a good part of the story, an important part; but only a part.  Its Capaldi’s show and its enjoyable to read it as such – after all, we are fascinated with the character of the Doctor, still, after all this time.  This is a story I really wish I could’ve seen on TV.  We now have the resources to 100% do it justice visually.

Mike Tucker does here, what he and Robert Perry did so nicely for Sylvester in the BBC Past Doctors range – they wrote a season for him that never happened, filled with quality stories.  I wish this were start of the same, but for Capaldi, who I feel hasn’t really had a fair go, either writing wise or plot wise, in terms of variety.  ON KINDLE.)
3.   Doctor Who: Deep Time, by Trevor Baxendale (BBC 12th Dr Series)
(There’s a lot going on here.  There’s a mission into a wormhole, an extensive cast of memorable characters.  The threat of The Glamour – which is why the Doctor is there.  There’s the timeless perfect creatures, The Phaeron – which is why another of the cast is there.  There’s a missing ship – where another crew member searches for a lost parent.  The crew crash their ship, the Alexandria, on a very old and nearly dead planet, then the time shifts begin.  The way the cast of characters have to get across the planet, searching for each other, the TARDIS, and having a generally violent need to escape reminded me of a disaster film like The Poseidon Adventure in many ways. 

All the characters were so well-written, I really felt it as one by one they started to be picked off by planetary flora, or predators, depending on what time zone they were in.  The good and the bad alike were taken, which made it as surprising a read as watching the Walking Dead can be in terms of who’s next to go.  It was a very visual world.  It would have made a very good television story – maybe a Special?  The Doctor as Capaldi is at his most sarcastic and intolerant of humans here, even as he tries to help them.  You really get a sense of the trials they all have to go through.  A great read.  ON KINDLE.)
4.   Doctor Who: Silhouette, by Justin Richards (BBC 12th Dr Series)
(Considering how annoying I find the performances of Jenny, Vastra and to a lesser extent Strax, on TV I was quite amazed to be greatly enjoying them here.  I find it a shame that the ruthless and implacable Sontarans are being used for comedy in new Who; though I do find the actor who plays Strax very amusing.  All 3 of the characters seem to benefit greatly from me imagining them rather than actually seeing or hearing them.  Here, Vastra is authoritative and dignified; Jenny feisty and Strax hilarious [on dealing with a street thug: “I find your constant ire refreshing!”].  This is a great improvement. 

The Victorian backdrop and the Carnival of Curiosities is a good one; Empath and Silhouette are very visual characters – one a subverted undertaker, sucking rage and anger from all he meets, the other a telekinetic who can control paper, making it dance or spin in shapes of attack [yes, death by papercut].  The villain here, Orestes Milton, is charmingly arrogant and politely very rude – quite an amusing character for an arms dealer.

This was well-paced, and had a very nice ending – both tidy and uplifting.  The Doctor saves the day with a mass act of peace and joyful radiance [and it’s almost believable – this from the person who does not think the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life would ever really happen…].  There’s a bit where the Doctor meets wonderfully done facsimiles of all his former selves, recognisable just from a sentence or so: beautifully carried off.  A much better read than I thought it was going to be!  ON KINDLE.)
5.   Doctor Who: Blood Cell, by James Goss (BBC 12th Dr Series)
(I really thought I wasn’t going to like this, as I like my Who stories in the 3rd person, so I’m tagging along and observing.  Because the Doctor is such a big character, I don’t want him mediated by or through another character who is the 1st person, the focalised point of the whole book.  And moreso: the main character.  He’s Governor of a prison the Doctor repeatedly tries to escape from.  He’s an annoying, snide, judgemental unpleasant person.  I really thought I might be on to a problem reading this one.  But I decided to give it more of a chance and within 2 or 3 chapters I was seeing the Doctor’s character shining through as clearly as ever. 

What’s more, it’s rare I’ve read a change in relationship between 2 characters done so well as the Governor and the Doctor.  I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book.  The changing perception of the Governor toward the Doctor, and the effect the Doctor has on the Governor is *beautifully* done.  By the end, the Governor is still a weak-willed annoying person, but he’s become honest, thoughtful and no longer blinkered – such character development and done so subtly over the course of the book, I was impressed, totally believable. 

There’s also a backstory sitting squarely on top of the actual story that’s large enough to count as a very good twist.  All most excellent.  Also, I enjoyed Clara very much in this story – their banter and the friendly relationship shown here was one of the great joys of the novel.  As were some of the subsidiary characters – the whole library incident and its sad librarian.  This was EXCELLENT.  I’m typing this up a month after finishing it and of all the novels I read of Capaldi – this is the one I keep remembering back to.  Its quirkiness stuck with me.  Read it!  ON KINDLE.)
6.   Doctor Who: Royal Blood, by Una McCormack (BBC 12th Dr Series)
(So – Lancelot and the Knights, searching for the Grail that is really the Glamour [yes, that again].  A medieval city not on Earth that is full of unexpected and out of place technology from the past [not the future].  Courtly intrigue, a coming war.  And into this, pop Clara and the Doctor.  They try and stop the unstoppable war while chasing the Glamour so that it doesn’t fall to the wrong hands, and to stop others whose chase for it alone is proving very destructive. 

I didn’t find this as riveting as the other books I’ve so far read of Capaldi.  But can’t think of a reason particularly why that should be so.  The Doctor was rude and wise; Clara had some good ideas; Mikhail turned out to be quite an interesting character; Bernhardt and Guena were pleasing noble minded…I cared about everyone.  Maybe this novel was a quieter read than the others so far, maybe?  Again, this is another one that would have made a good TV story – very visual, there would have been a lot to see.  ON KINDLE.)
7.   Doctor Who:  Big Bang Generation, by Gary Russell (BBC 12th Dr Series)
(A louche and informal style that some people will love here, and didn’t work for me.  Good to see Bernice, who I seem to like.  Good to hear about the Blinovitch Limitation Effect again.  The subsidiary cast were fun: Jack and Ruth were a lovely couple, one of them half grasshopper; Peter, a dog boy and son of Bernice; Kik the Assassin – all very good and colourful creations.  This one, though another Glamour story, seems to miss the point of the Glamour and its danger entirely – with quite an array of the cast seemingly totally immune to its siren like qualities; which limits its power to be all-scary quite considerable.    It’s also a less serious Glamour instalment than the other books; a faster moving heist story, which I usually like – I’m a fan of heist stories.  Light.  ON KINDLE.)

So that’s it for now.  I thought all these, even the weakest of them, was better than any of the stories Capaldi got given on TV.  Which is a bit sad for the TV series, but very heartening for readers at least.

I’m hoping there will be another Capaldi Special – the BBC do not seem to be pushing books out at the rate for him that they did for any of the other modern Doctors at all.  There’s none forthcoming at the moment.  All I have left to review are the audios released with him so far, and a couple of short stories.  I will add to the next Capaldi Special, the War Doctor – who also has a short story and one novel (so far).  That will be it with the modern Doctors I have particularly enjoyed, and we’ll be back to the Classics next time! 

The Tom Baker Special is up next – as previously promised!

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