Sunday 8 May 2011

Alien Bodies, by Lawrence Miles (BBC novel)

"That mask shouldn't exist in this timeline. You see how dangerous they are? Even their headgear breaks the Laws of Time. Even their headgear."

Alien Bodies was the first Lawrence Miles novel I read and, aside from the About Time guides, it was this book that made me the Lawrence Miles devotee that I am.

There is a really unsettling vibe about Alien Bodies. It does not feel like reading a typical Doctor Who novel. There is an overwhelming sense that the book is shaking up the whole mythos of Doctor Who. Just as the New Adventure novels Timewyrm: Revelation and Cat's Cradle: Warhead completely altered the paradigm of Doctor Who in the Virgin range, Alien Bodies completely alters the horizon of Doctor Who within the BBC books.

The Big Idea that Lawrence Miles introduces here is to consider the future of the Time Lords. We occasionally see them in the present and we know a fair bit about their history, but what is going to happen to them in the future? Hence, we get this new story arc about a massive war with some unknown enemy. Keeping the identity of the Enemy secret was a great idea. The whole war reminds me quite a bit of the Mysterons' war of nerves against Earth in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Lawrence Miles shows his talent at world-building by offering us glimpses of a future Time Lord society, as well as new ideas like the Celestis, Mictalan, Faction Paradox and the sentient, humanoid TARDIS. While I am more interested in the War than in Faction Paradox, I think the way Faction Paradox are presented is brilliant. They are so playful and seductive. I was horrified by the way Stephen Cole and Peter Angheliades ruined Faction Paradox in The Ancestor Cell, turning them into a grotesque bunch of walking corpses that nobody in their right mind would want to join. In fact, pretty much everything which Miles introduced in Alien Bodies was retro-erased out of the BBC books in The Ancestor Cell. No wonder the chap has a bit of a grudge.

Lawrence Miles has never been great at coming up with tightly written plots. Not a huge amount happens in this book. A group of people from various factions arrives at an auction to obtain a mysterious artifact. None of them have a big evil plan that needs to be thwarted. That does not matter, however, it is the way that Miles presents the characters that is interesting. Homunculette the Time Lord and his TARDIS/ Companion, Marie is simply glorious. It is such a shame that he only made one brief re-appearance in The Taking of Planet 5. Alien Bodies has something of a resemblance to Canterbury Tales in the way that it offers an interesting backstory for each of the main characters. Miles gives a great portrayal of the Eighth Doctor. He also makes Sam quite an interesting character, though all the stuff about the two alternate Sams is a bit confusing.

Alien Bodies teases us by letting us think that the Daleks are going to get involved in proceedings. Instead, we are left disturbed by the description of Daleks slaughtered by Krotons. If ever their was a Doctor Who monster in need of rehabilitation, it was the Krotons. Miles gives some brilliant descriptions of the Kroton race, both of their background and modus operandi. Although the characters in the book regard them as a bit silly, they are shown to be very sinister and disturbing creatures.

One significant difference from other Lawrence Miles novels is the lack of intellectual discourse about culture, philosophy or politics. This is a novel that is all about the Doctor and the universe in which he operates. Miles does not allow himself to be distracted by his intellectual interests. Alien Bodies is not the best Doctor Who novel ever written and to my mind, Dead Romance is the better Lawrence Miles novel, nevertheless, it is a major landmark in the Doctor Who canon.


  1. This was the first book I ever read by Miles and I was completely blown away. A single novel by him is enough fertile ground to mine years worth of material. Unfortunately, as later EDA novels proved, Miles is often the only one qualified to write about the concepts he creates.

    What I love about this book, that your review actually reminded me of, is with the future of the Time Lords, Miles seems to be returning the mystery and "magic" back to The Time Lord race, something that Robert Holmes effectively killed in 'The Deadly Assassin.' By envisioning future Time Lords, Miles allows past stories to stand but ushers in a new paradigm for The Doctor's people, a paradigm that is later destroyed. Such a shame.

    Also, sorry I haven't been able to comment more. For whatever reason, I have lost multiple comments while attempting to post to blogspot. Not sure why it happens.

  2. Thanks.

    What is clever in this and in Dead Romance and The Book of the War is that Miles goes back to the idea of the Time Lords as godlike and all-powerful while maintaining Robert Holmes notion of the Time Lords as Machiavellian and devious.

  3. Brilliant article. I have to pick this one up.

    I recall reading the brief Faction Paradox comic book and was dismayed that it was canceled so soon.

  4. Thanks.

    Yes, Faction Paradox has had something of a problem in generating interest. The books are remarkably expensive, especially the most recent ones by the new publisher.

    Second-hand copies of Alien Bodies are a bit pricey too.