Saturday, 30 July 2011

Nekromanteia, by Austen Atkinson (Big Finish Audio)

This audio takes us back into Eric Saward land. Blake's Seven plots, lots of violence and a very bleak future society. As with the Blake's Seven stuff, it's never made clear how far into the future this is.

It's nice to see Big Finish offering such a variety of stories, but unfortunately this audio has some of the faults of its source material. As with too much of the Saward era-material, the Doctor does not do an awful lot. The violence also becomes rather excessive. On the whole this is a rather dull story and not enormously original. I enjoy hearing Peri and Erimem, but they are a bit wasted here.

I can't decide whether the cackling and wailing of the witches is atmospheric or a bit silly in a comic book way.

Monday, 25 July 2011

God and Cosmic Evil, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi scientist from an alternate timeline and briefly a companion of the Seventh Doctor. This story is set between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest.

As they walked through the forest, Klein asked the Doctor what planet they were on.

"Knuhm," he replied.

"Knuhm? Is that not the name of the Egyptian deity whose temple we visited in ancient Egypt, in Elephantine?"

"Indeed, Klein. Having exhausted all the Roman gods, humans went on to name planets after Egyptian gods. The original inhabitants are all extinct, so what they called it, no one can say."

Klein's memory of ancient Egypt was a little foggy. "I remember entering the temple, but I can't remember anything after that."

"Yes, you were badly affected by race memories. An effect of encountering beings from your primordial past," said the Doctor.

The pair approached a ruined temple. There was something foreboding about it, a lingering sense of rancid evil.

"Shall we go and explore?" asked the Doctor.

"That is what we are here for, Herr Doctor," replied Klein, determined not to show any trepidation.

Though the temple was partially in ruins, it became apparent that much of it was very well preserved. It was decorated with many strange statues, some of them quite disturbing. There were winged serpents with many heads and masses of eyes, as well as monstrous bat-like creatures. There were also many carvings depicted vast armies engaged in bloody warfare, disemboweled corpses and hideous dog-like creatures tearing other beings apart.

Klein was not a superstitious person, but she was convinced that there was something absolutely evil about the place. Not just any evil, but a twisted, maddening horror. She thought she could hear a voice whispering through the air, saying 'Look out! We are coming back!' The place seemed to be playing tricks on her mind. Once or twice she even thought she could see fleeting images shifting before her.

"We've seen enough," said the Doctor. He led the way out of the temple.

"Doctor, what is this place?" Klein asked.

"Billions of years ago, when the universe was still young, my people experimented with black holes in order to gain mastery over time. They unwittingly opened a gateway to another universe, allowing in creatures called the Yssgaroth."

"What kind of creatures were they, Doctor?"

"It's not clear whether they were real beings or simply a force of negative energy antithetical to this cosmos. They usually manifested themselves as monstrous winged serpents like some of the statues in that temple. They desired only to destroy and corrupt this universe."

"If these things came from another universe with different physical laws, they must have been an unstoppable force," said Klein.

"They had a weakness. As their nature was antithetical to this universe, they were unable to remain in it for long. They found a solution to that, however."

The Doctor's face snarled as he explained these things. Clearly it was a subject that troubled him deeply.

"The Yssgaroth absorbed some of the biomatter of this universe and fashioned for themselves bodies of flesh. They became terrible creatures; giant bat-like monsters that feasted on blood."

"Vampires," whispered Klein with a shiver.

"That is where the legends originally came from. Not only did the Yssgaroth create bodies for themselves, but they also transformed and corrupted the biodata of many lifeforms in this universe, turning them into vampires. My people, the Time Lords were assaulted by a vast army of monsters. The vampires had allies too."

Despite being disturbed by these tales, Klein was fascinated. There was an epic quality to these legends, like one of Wagner's operas.

"Before this universe was born, there was another universe, a very different one. Some of its inhabitants survived its destruction and made their way into the new universe. They were known as the Great Old Ones, beings with terrible power. Among them were Yog-Sothoth, known as the Great Intelligence and Hastur the Unspeakable, known as Fenric. Fenric was the first of the Old Ones to make common cause with the Yssgaroth. Those wolf-like creatures in the temple carvings were his beasts. The Time Lords were almost overthrown by such power that was assailed against them. The war they fought across space lasted so long that it was known as the Eternal War."

"The Time Lords won this war?" asked Klein.

"They did, and it changed them forever. After facing such powers they had become gods and they saw fit to shape the universe as they pleased."

"Where does the temple come in to this?"

The Doctor frowned. "The Yssgaroth spread so far across the cosmos that they came to be worshipped on many planets. The original inhabitants of Knuhm erected temples like one to the Yssgaroth. There are even hidden cults amongst humanity that seek the return of their kind. There are always foolish beings who seek power from sources far beyond them. My big worry is that the new colonists on Knuhm may take too much interest in this temple. I suspect I may have to return here."

Klein dwelt upon the things the Doctor told her about the Eternal War and the Yssgaroth. The thought of such cosmic horrors had shaken her to the core. The things worshipped in that temple were pure evil. The universe now seemed a much darker place and from what the Doctor had told her, the host of Time Lords were almost as bleak as the monsters they had fought.

There had to be a God somewhere in this dark and treacherous universe. Klein had to believe that. She had never been a religious woman, but she was no atheist. Atheism was for Communists. In her timeline, Christianity had been in decline since the Third Reich's victory over Europe, though in the Sixties it had begun a resurgence.

Klein had never given the subject of God much thought. Her parents' true religion had been National Socialism, but they had still counted themselves as good Protestants and had her baptized and taken her to church on occasions. Perhaps with such evil things inhabiting the universe, she needed to give faith some more thought.

That night, after she had put on her nightgown, before climbing into bed, she knelt down and prayed.

"Dear God," Klein prayed. "I don't think I have prayed since I was a little girl, but I thought I had better start now. I have seen such evils in this universe. I have seen such chaos. The forces of good and right must triumph somehow. God in heaven, I believe you are real. Show your power and grant me the chance to restore the Third Reich to what it should be. Let me reclaim the destiny that should belong to my race and people."

Klein got into bed and drifted into sleep, confident that God would grant her prayer.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Dead Romance, by Lawrence Miles

The founder of time-traveller society was a great thinker, a great scientist, a great philosopher, and a great politician. That's what the stories say, although whenever Cwej told me the stories he always got distracted and started talking about rocket-ship fights with giant vampire-beasts. But the statue in the fortress? Just a great warrior. Because warriors were what Cwej's employers needed, I suppose. Warriors were what they wanted their agents to be.... When I think about Cwej, I sometimes end up thinking about two different people. Nice Cwej, who used to snuggle up next to me and watch night-time TV in the flat. The Cwej of cuddles. And Warrior Cwej, who did whatever his employers told him to, right up until the end. The Cwej of Holy War. The Cwej of Destruction. I think I know which Cwej is going to end up on top, if his employers ever get round to writing their history of their fight agaist the Gods.

Dead Romance is Lawrence Miles' best novel ever. Alien Bodies was great, but it pales in comparison to the brilliance of Dead Romance. Furthermore, Dead Romance sets a literary standard that outshines and outclasses every single Doctor Who novel ever written. I won't say this is the best Doctor Who novel ever, as it is not altogether certain this is a Doctor Who novel, but if it was, it would be the best Doctor Who novel ever.

Dead Romance was originally published as part of Virgin's Bernice Summerfield range of novels. It was more recently republished with minor changes by Mad Norwegian Press. It is not actually part of the Faction Paradox series (they are never mentioned in it), but does provide some background to how the Faction Paradox ideas and concepts developed. It is difficult to fit Dead Romance into any sort of continuity. The bottle universe idea was Miles' way of illustrating his denial that the Virgin and BBC novels occupy the same universe. The novel is part of a story arc within the Bernice Summerfield novels, but now that it was republished independently, it is not clear that this continuity still stands. Do the revelations about the Gods in Twilight of the Gods apply to the new edition of the book? The ideas in it are similar to those in the Faction Paradox books, but are certainly not identical. It's not at all certain that the Gods in Dead Romance are the same as the Enemy in The Book of the War.

This novel is closer to being Doctor Who than the Faction Paradox books. Cwej, first introduced in the New Adventures, is one of the main characters. Bernice Summerfield does not appear, but is referred to throughout the book. The Doctor is mentioned, described as 'the Evil Renegade,' according to Cwej a sinister character who kidnaps people and makes them think they are having wonderful adventures. We also get the Time Lords, Rassilon and even the Daleks without any copyrighted names being mentioned. The clever nameless references work really well and show just how shallow a lot of the continuity referencing in some Doctor Who novels can be.

Nevertheless, this is very much a Doctorless novel. Even the darkest of Doctor Who novels still have the reassuring presence of the Doctor. Dead Romance does not. There is no Doctor to rescue everybody here. We are told right from the start that the world is going to come to an end and it does. This is a dark, bleak novel pervaded with an overall mood of pessimism. Dead Romance presents an hopeless, chaotic and futile cosmos. This is a quite different mood to what we generally get in Doctor Who.

The story is told through a first-person narrative. Cleverly, this an unreliable narrator. In a postmodern spirit, we are never quite sure how much of the cosmic picture she has grasped. She is also clearly baffled by all the alien technology she encounters and so describes it in magical terms like 'potions.' This is a refreshing change from the technobabble you get in so much Doctor Who.

The narrator, Christine Summerfield (not an ancestor or in any way a blood relative to Benny) is a typical Lawrence Miles character, a cynical drug addict with very loose morals. I find her very likable. She is a down to Earth person who is easy to identify with. I much prefer her to Bernice Summerfield. Despite my adoration of the Virgin NAs, I absolutely hate Benny. She is far too overconfident and self-righteous. Christine is a much more believable character. Cwej comes across quite differently to how he appears in other novels. Part of the tragedy of the book is seeing just how corrupted he has become. The lack of redemption for him shows just how far this is from the happy humanism of Doctor Who.

Like every other Lawrence Miles book, the plot rambles a bit. There is a bit red herring half way through. There is also a massive twist in Dead Romance towards the end. I won't give it away, but it totally changes your perspective on the story and it makes the whole thing seem even more dark than it was up to that point.

I really appreciated the lack of action in the book. It is very much a work of reflection. It is all about exactly what is going through the mind of the protagonist and narrator. In fact, the only time in the book that she does something heroic, there is an apology!

The Time Lords are brilliantly portrayed. We never meet a flesh and blood Time Lord in the book, and this distance helps to keep them god-like and ethereal. They appear utterly cold and ruthless. They are simply beyond caring about the lives of human beings. Their obsession with altering the bodies of their subjects and employees is a new idea. I suppose the Rani must have learned her tricks on Gallifrey.

Dead Romance shares some common themes with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as the sense of doom and cosmic pessimism. However, it stands above pretty much everything which is consciously written in the vein of Lovecraft. Seeing Miles manage to use the very same ideas as Lovecraft, yet avoiding the cliches of his imitators made me realise just how bad and pointless most Mythos fiction is.

Dead Romance is simply the cleverest and best written book ever to be associated with Doctor Who. It's absolute literary perfection.

Two Biochemists in Arkham, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

A crossover with Batman. This is a sequel to The Rani in Arkham.

The Rani and Poison Ivy sat on a couch in the recreation room, kissing and cuddling. The two scientists had barely been able to stay away from each other since they had met in Arkham Asylum. It was not a little ironic, given that the Rani had been planning on kidnapping Ivy and using her in her biotech experiments.

Harley Quinn folded her arms and looked at the pair with disgust. She had thought she was Ivy's best girl. It felt very low.

Harley turned to Roxy Rocket who was sat nearby, trying impatiently to learn knitting.

"After all we've been through she dumps me for this dame?" she said. "Looks like I'm not crazy enough for Ivy. Obviously dating a psychopathic clown killer is not good enough. I should have been some loony who thinks she's a 'Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey' with two hearts! Why didn't I stick with Puddin?"

Poison Ivy withdrew her lips from her new lover. "Can you really turn people into trees?"

"Oh yes, darling," replied the Rani.

"I want to see you do that," said Ivy, imagining various possible subjects for such an experiment.

"When you help me break out of here, I'll show you. And you must see a Krynoid. It's a plant on a distant planet that infects animals. It turns them into a colossal vegetable monster that devours all animal life. The early stages of infection have a remarkable similarity to your own metabolism," said the Rani.

"You must help me get one!" cried Ivy.

"When we get to my TARDIS. In the meantime, you have me, my dear," said the Rani seductively.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Space Age, by Steve Lyons (BBC novel)

This is the city: a technological paradise built by an advanced race. Its glittering towers reach proudly for the stars, and its spires are looped by elevated roadways.

The people that lived here were enlightened and contented. They travelled in bubble-topped saucer cars, along moving pavements or in anti-gravity tubes. Obedient robots tended to their every whim. Disease, war, famine and pollution had been eradicated. Food machines synthesised all essential nutrients into pill form, and personal rocket ships brought the solar system within reach. The people of the city befriended Venusians and Martians alike.

The city is self-cleansing. Its systems harness solar power and static electricity. Its buildings are constructed from a metal that will never rust or tarnish. It will stand forever as a monument to the achievements of the human race.

This is Earth. The year is 2000 AD. This is your future.

Welcome to the Space Age.

That was the cover blurb on the back of The Space Age. I think it is safe to say that this is the most amazing and mind-blowing cover blurb in the history of Doctor Who books. The big problem is that no novel could possibly live up to the expectations generated by such an amazing summary. One ends up feeling rather cheated by it.

Steve Lyons is in my opinion, one of the best Doctor Who novelists ever. I can't imagine him writing a bad novel, but this one certainly does not quite live up to what I had hoped of it. The Space Age is not as bad as some readers claim. It is a fairly interesting and very readable novel.

While the cover blurb would lead us to expect a story about alternate timelines or parallel realities, what we get is a sort of sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies. A group of teenage Mods and Rockers from the Sixties were transported to an alien world and have been fighting their old battles (interlaced with family feuds) for decades. We don't get much explanation of exactly how this rather select group of people ended up stranded in this alien environment, other than the three main characters. The characters in The Space Age are not terribly likable. I imagine if you have been stranded in a strange place most of your life, you might feel a bit grim, but its hard to identify with them, especially the way they have continued their pointless battles. It seemed odd that there was absolutely no mention of sex. One might imagine that sexual politics amongst this group might be rather important, especially given the significance of a wedding in the background of the characters. I thought the Doctor Who novels were adult territory where sex was allowed to be mentioned. The setting in the futuristic city is very while described and portrayed at least.

Fitz was pretty good in this story, with his tall tales. I think more could have been made of his background as somebody from the Sixties himself. Here he is with a group of people from his own time; we might expect him to have more affinity with them than some of the other people he has met in other books. Compassion is unfortunately written out of most of the novel. She is used well, but it is annoying to see Lyons having the same problem with Compassion as other novelists. The Doctor is okay.

There is a distinct lack of humour in this book. In places, it has a slightly preachy tone. The theme of the futility of conflict does feel just a little bit old.

The Space Age is alright in my judgement, but disappointing and nowhere nearly as good as some of Lyons' other books.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Season 22

It was certainly a mistake to introduce the Sixth Doctor at the end of the previous season instead of opening with his first story. It is just one of the many ways in which he was set up to fail, not least among them the hideous costume he was given.

After the grey darkness of the previous season, Season 22 has something of a more colourful look. For the most part, this is not accompanied by a more light-hearted tone. Season 22 is unrelentingly violent and full of some quite vicious characters. To my mind, the crushing of Lytton's hands in Attack of the Cybermen represents the heights of excessive violence in Doctor Who. Production values in this season are a mixed bag, with some great location work and a few good sets, but also some uninspired acting in some stories. The quality of script writing is rather underwhelming in Season 22.

There does seem to have been a genuine desire to challenge viewers and offer a fresh approach to Doctor Who, but it was too half-hearted. For all the attempt to make the Doctor scary and less clean-cut, like he had been in the Hartnell years, he was still presented as a nice guy deep down. The McCoy years would later succeed in making the Doctor seem genuinely scary and dangerous. The over reliance on past continuity, inherited from the previous seasons would also serve as a barrier to offering a fresh approach.

As with the previous season, there is a strong thematic connection between the serials of this season. There is an emphasis on consumption, lust and the body. Attack of the Cybermen has the Cybermen consuming human bodies, Vengeance on Varos has colonists who consume images of torture, Mark of the Rani has the Rani using human bodies as a source of chemicals and, of course, turning people into trees. The Two Doctors is all about eating the flesh of humans and aliens. Timelash has the Borad wanting to posses and change Peri's body. Revelation of the Daleks is about bodies being turned into food and also into Daleks. With some better writers, these scripts could have considerably enhanced the depth and strength of the stories.

Through it all, Colin Baker gave some pretty decent performances. As both the Doctor and as a real person he is very likable, but he was simply not given material that enabled him to shine. Nicola Bryant was also disadvantaged by being paired with a character with whom her character would inevitably clash. It can be fun watching the Sixth Doctor and Peri bicker, but through the whole season it became just a bit too much.

Attack of the Cybermen 3/10

Too much obsession with continuity, too much violence and shockingly weak Cybermen.

Vengeance on Varos 7/10

The makings of a great story, let down by lazy and careless script writing.

The Mark of the Rani 4/10

Why did they have to bring back the Master?

The Two Doctors 9/10

A very postmodern story that deconstructs our idea of the way the Doctor operates.

Timelash 3/10

Very silly, but still fun.

Revelation of the Daleks 9/10

Brilliantly directed with a great set of characters, but the Doctor is completely irrelevant to the plot.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Church and the Crown, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright (Big Finish audio)

"I'm more of a leotard and shorts kind of girl."

It is really nice to see Big Finish producing so many pure historical stories. For some reason, the Fifth Doctor has been given an awful lot of them. I suppose it is easier to see the Fifth Doctor take on the role of passive bystander than the Sixth or Seventh Doctor.

The Church and the Crown very much feels like The Androids of Tara. You have scheming nobility, a royal with an uncanny resemblance to a companion and a general sense of fun. This is a good thing as I am a big fan of Androids of Tara.

There is nothing much in this story that is original. We have seen the 'uncanny likeness' idea used countless times in Doctor Who and it feels no more convincing here than it does in any other story. Nevertheless, it is still highly enjoyable.

Peter Davison is pretty good in this, though the Fifth Doctor's historical namedropping comes across more like th Third Doctor. Nicola Bryant does a fantastic job of playing two roles. While the doppelganger think might not be original, it is interesting to hear it being pulled off effectively on audio. Peri's cute friend Erimem, played by Caroline Morris is also great. While 17th century Paris is alien to her, she feels instantly at home in the court with all its nobility, religion and intrigue.

I like the way historicals offer a little education and The Church and the Crown is no exception. I like the way the Doctor challenged Peri's Dumas-influenced perceptions about Richelieu being the bad guy.

The Church and the Crown captures a sense of light-hearted fun that is missing from a lot of Doctor Who audios and novels. It's definitely worth a listen.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Magic of Morgaine, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Morgaine's perpetual imprisonment after Battlefield.

Madeleine Issigri is from the Troughton story, The Space Pirates

Ganymede Correctional Facility 2192

As Morgaine passionately kissed her, Madeleine felt a blast of energy course through her body. The energy seemed to transform every cell in her body, bringing it into a new harmony with the cosmos. It was as though she were being thrust out of her normal course and caught up in a cosmic river. The touch of Morgaine's lips seemed to connect her to the fabric of the very universe.

As Morgaine slowly moved away from her, Madeleine felt so relaxed, so calm, as though she were at peace with the whole universe. She lay on her futon, savouring the experience.

"That feeling- that was magic, wasn't it?" she asked Morgaine.

"Yes, my pretty thing, I'm channelling all my love and joy throuhg you by magic."

"It feels so lovely." Madeleine was curious to know more about her cellmate's strange power.

"You can do that, but you can't use your other powers, can you?"

Morgaine smiled at her. "Very true, my lovely. My powers are restricted by the magic inscription on the walls of this prison," she said, pointing to the strange marks on the walls. "Yet I can still channel my feelings through magic and I can also heal minds and bodies. You know as I do how much some of the women here have needed that."

Madeleine did indeed. Her time in prison had made her realise how privileged she was with her bourgeois background. So many of the women in the prison had experienced years of drug addiction, domestic abuse and plain poverty. Morgaine's healing power had enabled them to know the comfort and beauty of a world far beyond them.

Madeleine was still curious. "So those marks on the wall. What difference do they actually make?"

Morgaine laughed and rose up from the cell floor, "Let me explain them to you. Those markings are writing in the language of the Elder Folk."

"Elder Folk?"

"You probably call them fairies," explained Morgaine.

"Right," said a bemused Madeleine. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she would be sharing a prison cell and passionately in love with an immortal sorceress who believed in fairies. Sometimes she had to remind herself that she was in a prison and not a mental hospital.

Her girlfriend continued. "These symbols here; that is Morgaine, my name. Speaking or writing somebody's name gives you a certain power over them. Now if I only knew the real name of Merlin..."

"So what's the next set of symbols?" asked an intrigued Madeleine.

"Those symbols spell the word 'command.' You always have to include them in a magic formula. The next means 'bind' and the final word is 'forbid.' The sum of this formula is to create a magic barrier around the prison. Within it cannot use my magic powers, nor can I leave without permission."

"Is there no way to escape it?" asked Madeleine.

"Perhaps there is, but would that be either right or wise? I dare say that you could find a way to escape this prison. Would you do that? If you were caught you would be sent here again, and for much longer. Besides, you know the things you did were wrong. You accept your punishment," her cellmate replied.

"I suppose so, though I can't imagine being here as long as you have been. I have less than a year to serve."

"And I shall miss you very much when you are gone. You are another reason I do not escape now," said Morgaine with a broad grin. She settled down on the synthgrass mat on the cell floor.

"So what could you do if the barrier wasn't there? Could you turn the guards into toads?"

Morgaine raised an eyebrow. "I suppose I could. I haven't ever thought about turning somebody into a toad. It is a little more complex than you might imagine. I could do all manner of things. I can disappear and appear in another place, I can force the wills of others, I can read minds, I can create magic fire, I can turn people into dust and with the necessary formulas, I can summon demons."

"I'm glad you can't summon any demons in here right now, they sound rather frightful."

"Yes, they are rather frightful my dear," said Morgaine, wriggling her toes.

"I never believed in magic. I never imagined such things could be real."

"I am not sure if there is any magic in your universe," said Morgaine with a frown. "Merlin's kind are like gods in this world. They have shaped it since it was young. They feared things like magic, things that they could not shape and control. They removed such elements from the universe. Even the Elder Folk were banished from this universe by Merlin's race."

"I always thought of Merlin as somebody who used magic," said a puzzled Madeleine.

"In his own way, he does use magic, though he fears it like all of his kind. That is one of the reasons why he keeps me shut up in prison."

"Does everybody in your universe use magic?"

Morgaine looked disgusted at this suggestion. "Certainly not, I am of a special breed. My mother was one of the Elder Folk, a fairy. I have all of the magic of her race. I have also gained much power from the elements of my world, its sea, its air and its red earth. Though I cannot use my power, it is still a part of my very flesh and soul."

"I don't suppose you have enough power to make the food here taste any better?"

Morgaine laughed a deep rich laugh. "If only I did. That would make these long years of imprisonment much easier to bear."

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Moonbase (BBC audio)

I was completely bored out of my skull listening to this audio. This story was the second novelisation I read (after Revenge of the Cybermen) when I first took an interest in Doctor Who, so I knew the story pretty well. I did not get anything out of listening to this audio recon. I really don't know why I keep buying these CDs, it just seems utterly pointless.

The Moonbase is similar in plot to The Tenth Planet, but it adds a new dimension in giving the Cybermen stealth infiltration tactics. Thus, it became the standard template for the classic base-under siege story. I imagine it was probably quite exciting the first time round, but after watching so many other variations on this story, it really is quite uninteresting.

I love Troughton and I appreciate that his era is much celebrated by fans, but for me this is the period when Doctor Who went wrong. After the wild diversity of the Hartnell era, we ended up with Doctor Who becoming a show about monsters and Body-snatcher style alien infiltration. It's only when we get into the Graham Williams years (a period with its own faults, I know) that there was a real attempt to move away from monster themes.

The Second Doctor writers gave the Doctor a new sense of direction and purpose, but it is not a particularly interesting one. Troughton's Doctor basically summed it up in this story:

There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.

This Doctor is all about fighting monsters. The word 'bred' suggests things that by their very nature are evil. The Doctor does not explain what the things are that we are supposed to believe in, he just assumes we are all in agreement. I don't mind the Doctor using lethal force to deal with threats and danger; I don't see him as a pacifist, I just don't care for the Troughton idea of the Doctor as a wandering monster-hunter.

The Two Doctors and Warriors of the Deep can be seen in different ways as satires of the whole Moonbase approach to Doctor Who. The Two Doctors subverts and deconstructs the values of the Second Doctor. The unreflective viewer is shocked to see the Second Doctor applying his 'terrible things' logic to the humanoid and rather amusing Androgums while forgetting that we don't mind him being beastly to the alien Sontarans. Warriors of the Deep, on the other hand, subverts the structure of the base-under-siege genre. In place of the needlessly complex and padded plots that we typically get, we have an extremely linear plot. The solution to the alien menace is revealed right at the beginning making the ending obvious. Instead of focusing on how the Doctor will save the day, the emphasis is placed on the pointless and terrible carnage involved. Both stories have been savaged by traditionally minded fans.

The Cyberman voices are cool in this story, though I prefer the more human sounding Cybermen in The Tenth Planet, where interestingly, Ben feels remorse about killing one.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Book of the War, edited by Lawrence Miles (Faction Paradox)

Between the age of 11 and 14 I was massively into Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 game. This is a tabletop war game in a setting far into the future. Warhammer 40k is probably one of the most vivid and fascinating fictional universes ever created. I gave up Warhammer 40k when I was 14, but in my twenties I would actually buy the Games Workshop magazine, White Dwarf, not because I had taken it up again, but just to enjoy reading the background material. I think Warhammer 40k has gone downhill massively in recent years because of the efforts of Games Workshop editors to impose too much uniformity on their universe. They got rid of something that really made it work; the quirky sense of humour that characterised the background material in the early nineties. Reading The Book of the War reminds me of reading Warhammer 40,000 rulebooks and source books back in the early days of Warhammer 40k. It definitely has the feel of a role-playing source book, with all the elaboration on key characters and factions. It portrays a bleak and rather disturbing cosmos, yet embues that cosmos with a tongue in cheek humour. If the idea of buying a gaming book just to enjoy the source material makes any sense to you, then you are probably going to enjoy The Book of the War.

Lawrence Miles has always been much better at building worlds than coming up with effective plots. His books are always full of brilliant ideas, but tend to ramble and plod a little. This book therefore capitalises on his strengths by dispensing with any plot and just gives a A-Z guide to the various elements of the universe he effectively created out of Doctor Who. He is assisted in this by an imaginative group of writers notably including Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham, co-authors of the impressive Taking of Planet 5 within the BBC novels original War in Heaven arc.

The key elements of the War in Heaven, Faction Paradox, Celestis, humanoid TARDISes, Mictalan and the mysterious Enemy were all introduced by Miles in the BBC Doctor Who novels. Unfortunately, this stuff was too radical for the BBC range to handle properly so it was all retro-erased in The Ancestor Cell. The Book of the War undoes the destructive work of The Ancestor Cell and expands upon this new and disturbing version of the Whoniverse that we glimpsed in Alien Bodies.

For legal reasons this can't be proper Doctor Who. There are possible references to the Doctor if you look for them, but this is a book about the universe he might have inhabited rather than about the man himself. The elements created by Miles himself, such as Faction Paradox and Compassion are allowed in, as well as Cwej and the Yssgaroth with the permission of their creators. Other key Doctor Who elements have had a change of name. Hence, we get the Great Houses in place of the Time Lords and timeships for TARDISes. The War King is thought to be the Master and the Imperator is definitely Morbius.

The Time Lords, or Great Houses, as they are called in the book, are very much Lawrence Miles vision of the Time Lords. His genius is to combine the two models of the Time Lords that we get in Doctor Who; the predominant Robert Holmes idea of a corrupt and sinister society and the early War Games image of god-like beings. The Great Houses are as Machiavellian as they get, but they are also shown to be an almost all-powerful elemental presence in the universe. It is the Great Houses who have made history what it is. The War is not exactly a physical assault on Gallifrey, but an attempt to overthrow history as the Time Lords have directed it.

The Book of the War does not reveal the identity of the Enemy (would you really want it to?) but does give some elaboration of how they fit into the concepts of the War. Cleverly, a list of entries is offered relating to the Enemy with some intriguing titles, but these are purposely missing. It's a very clever way to play with the reader.

I was very glad to see the use of the Yssgaroth, courtesy of Neil Penswick. These help to tie this world to the mythos of Doctor Who. We get some great discussion about their history and relation to the Time Lords. Neil Penswick never made clear in The Pit whether the Yssgaroth are supposed to be the same as the Great Vampires in State of Decay. The Book of the War essentially treats them as the same. It also introduces the Mal'akh, humans who have been tainted by the Yssgaroth. These are identified with the Nephilim of Genesis 6 in the Old Testament.

One has to admire the sheer scope of this book. It does not simply describe characters and settings but outlines an entire cosmology. As well as the satire of popular culture that one can expect in a Miles book, we also get explorations of philosophy and temporal physics. The book often offers conflicting perspectives on the various concepts and characters, some psychological, some scientific, others theological. This leaves a certain doubt about the whole truth of the War.

In the About Time guides to Doctor Who, Miles and Wood distinguished between science fiction and fantasy by arguing that science fiction deals with humanity's relation to tools, while fantasy deals with humanity's relation to symbols. The Book of the War is totally in the latter category. It is a book about symbols and concepts. For instance Faction Paradox's 'Eleven Day Empire.' The historical change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar resulted in the loss of eleven calendar days. Rather than treating them as merely words and numbers on a paper calendar, these days are treated as having an independent existence which can be used as a stronghold for Faction Paradox. The Book of the War outlines a kind of Platonic metaphysics in which concepts have a real existence as entities. Hence a creature called a 'Memovore' can actually eat concepts! The concept of 'Biodata' does not seem radically different to Plato's concept of the 'Forms.'

One of the greatest aspects of the book is the playful use of language. Some of the titles of the entries are delightful- The Broken Remote, Production Hell, The Unkindnesses. Take the City of the Saved. A lot of readers were annoyed by that, thinking the idea of a city containing the resurrected form of every human who ever lived smacked of religion (there seems to be a big atheist contingent in fandom). Reading the word 'Saved' makes one assume that theological salvation is in mind. However, this is deconstructed in the novel Faction Paradox: Of the City of the Saved..., where somebody points out that 'saved' can refer to data being saved on to a disc or computer drive.

If you are fascinated by the Time Lords, if you enjoy exploration of the background of Doctor Who or you just love reading Lawrence Miles' leftfield ideas, you really need to read this book.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Season 21

The Five Doctors was not part of either Season 20 or Season 21, but it provided a very definite introduction to the ethos of the season it preceded. The return of an whole bunch of old monsters in The Five Doctors set the scene for the return of the Eocenes in Warriors of the Deep.

In The Five Doctors, the Fifth Doctor is placed in a nightmare realm full of monsters and enemies where his very existence is threatened. When he escapes this realm, he finds that his own society is corrupt to the core and his old mentor has fallen into dark ways. One of my favorite moments in Doctor Who is when the Fifth Doctor looks with horror at the black-clad Borusa and says "What happened to you, Borusa?" His look reveals not only horror and disgust, but genuine compassion. The Five Doctors is essentially Season 21 in microcosm.

Season 21 is all about the innocence and moral purity of the Fifth Doctor struggling with a pitiless and brutal cosmos. In Warriors of the Deep, he is faced by Eocenes that want to wipe out humanity and humans are close to wiping out each other. His inability to handle this situation leads to the death of everybody in the serial. From this he moves on to Resurrection of the Daleks, where he resolves to kill Davros, but can't do it.

More than any of season, Season 21 is bound by an overarching theme. It's not a story arc, but more of an aesthetic. There is a real sense of tragedy as we see the Fifth Doctor faced with the grim realities of the universe. This climaxes with Caves of Androzani, where he is just sick of it all and cares for nothing but saving the life of Peri. This leads to his death. This tragedy is doubled by the complete alteration of his persona in his regeneration. The innocence and kindness of the Fifth Doctor are destroyed by the madness and horror of the season and we see him taken on a new form that is thoroughly unstable, violent and rather repulsive. It might have been a colossal mistake to end the season with The Twin Dilemma, but it fits the theme of the season perfectly.

Peter Davison is at his peak in this season. We saw glimpses of a more charismatic Davison in Season 20, but it's in Season 21 that we really see him come to life. Mark Strickson and Janet Fielding are also very strong here too.

Season 21 sees the introduction of a great new companion, Peri. Peri has been unfairly derided for being 'eyecandy' and lampooned for her terrible accent, but she really is a great companion. She gets on so well with the Fifth Doctor, though admittedly not so well with the Sixth.

Not all of the stories of Season 21 are brilliant, but with the exception of The Twin Dilemma, they manage to maintain a certain standard.

The Five Doctors- 5/10

It rather fails to hold all its elements together, but it is very enjoyable. Having an impersonation of Hartnell was just wrong though.

Warriors of the Deep- 7/10

Cruelly maligned by fans. It has some problems with the direction, but it is a fantastic story with some great sets and cracking performances from the regulars.

The Awakening- 6/10

Some great elements, but two episodes are not enough to make the story work.

Frontios- 8/10

Creates a real sense of bleakness and tragedy, but the temporary destruction of the TARDIS feels like an afterthought.

Resurrection of the Daleks- 6/10

Did Saward really have to kill off so many characters? Ultra-violent and grim, it looks impressive, despite having an utterly confused plot.

Planet of Fire- 7/10

Very glossy production, but the plot is a bit lacking in substance.

Caves of Androzani- 10/10

Brilliant scripting meets brilliant direction for the tragic end of the Fifth Doctor.

The Twin Dilemma- 3/10

How could they end the season on such an awful story? Peri's reaction to the new Doctor is worth watching though.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Rani in Arkham, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

A Doctor Who/ Batman crossover.

Dr. Jeremiah Arkham turned to his secretary. "Have them send that new patient to consulting room 8. I want to see her."

"The one who calls herself 'the Rani?' Her paperwork was a nightmare to complete, doctor. No real name, no date of birth, no past addresses. We don't even know her nationality."

Jeremiah Arkham narrowed his eyes. "She claims to be an alien from another planet. And a time traveller to boot."

"I did see her medical report. I could hardly believe she has two hearts and not a drop of human blood!" said his secretary.

"I would remind you that Pamela Islee has vegetable soup for blood. And our Waylon Jones is barely human. No, Tina, this is just another case of a mutant with a personality complex," he replied.

As Jeremiah made his way through the harshly lit corridors of Arkham Asylum, he looked through glass doors at the many men and women held there. Nearly all of them eccentrics who had put on costumes and committed bizarre crimes. They were becoming so common that psychologists were talking about 'Gotham Syndrome,' a condition that caused people to develop colourful alter egos and to style themselves as super-crooks. It was his thankless task to awaken these deluded freaks to the real world.

Consulting room 8 was a sparse room with a high barred window. It was furnished with just two chairs. There was no table; Jeremiah needed to observe the posture of his patients when he interviewed them.

The Rani was dragged in by two female nurses and placed unceremoniously in a chair. Her arms were bound up in a straitjacket, beneath which she was shaking with rage.

"Get this thing off me," howled the Rani, struggling with her straitjacket.

"I can, if you promise not to give me any trouble," said Jeremiah. At once, one of the nurses cautiously began to unstrap the patient. "If you do give me trouble, the jacket goes on again and you go into a padded cell under heavy sedation. Is that clear?"

The Rani nodded glumly. She was an attractive woman with a heart-shaped face and long brown hair. He guessed she might be in her late thirties, but with her abnormal physiology, it was impossible to say. She had something of a haughty arrogant look in her eyes. Like the other patients at Arkham Asylum, she had been dressed in green pyjamas and soft foam slippers. She had an ID tag on her wrist.

"I understand you claim to be of a race called the Time Lords and to come from the planet Gallifrey. That is quite an extraordinary claim, Ms. Rani," said Jeremiah.

"You put me throught the humiliation of a medical examination. It should be rather obvious to you that I am not human," she replied.

Jeremiah smiled. "We have a lot of patients hear who have physical abnormalities. Mutations, freaks of nature. It's a leading cause of what is known as 'Gotham Syndrome,' by which people develop delusions of grandeur and don costumes to commit bizarre crimes. Might I suggest that being born with this very distinctive cardiovascular system of yours led you to become convinced that you were an alien from another world?"

"Nonsense. I can assure you that I was born on Gallifrey and have travelled to this world through time and space," insisted the Rani.

This was not getting anywhere. Jeremiah was going to have to shift the focus of this interview.

"If you are from another world, another time, what brought you to Gotham City? I'm sure there were a lot of other times and places you could go," he said.

"Not for pleasure, I can assure you. I came because of one of your former patients, Pamela Islee, better known as Poison Ivy."

"Ah, Pamela," said Jeremiah. "And what is your interest in that most unusual lady?"

"I came across historical records referring to her. Somehow this human came to obtain one of the most unusual physiologies I have come across. She is a stable fusion of plant and mammal biology. The crude tinkering that you would call scientific research somehow created this biochemical oddity. Her value to my own research is immense. Such a biological fusion could mean incredible breakthroughs in bio-engineering. Not that those in your time would have any understanding of such possibilities," said the Rani.

"So you are a scientist, then? How interesting," said Jeremiah. He made a mental note of this. Scientists these days were constantly having freak accidents and turning into monsters and supercrooks. If this woman was indeed a scientist, it only confirmed his suspicion that her abnormalities were a mutation.

"So did you contact Miss Islee?" he asked.

The Rani sneered. "I doubt she would have agreed to come onboard my timeship and become a willing subject of my research. No, I needed to capture her. I did some research. I trawled through the squalor of Gotham's filthiest bars, talking to the lowest dregs of your society."

Jeremiah made a sour expression. "That can't have been a pleasant experience."

The Rani continued. "It discovered that the criminal classes of your city were expecting Poison Ivy to make a move. An English artist, Amelia Ducat was holding an exhibition in Gotham City's art gallery."

Jeremiah nodded. "Ah, yes. Amelia Ducat. Renowned for her paintings of flowers. I can imagine that would peak Miss Islee's interest."

"Everyone who knew Poison Ivy expected her to try to steal the paintings. Some of the near-apes I talked to were hoping that Ivy might be looking for hired help. Others were wary. They expected the mysterious vigilante known as the Batman to try and stop Ivy," explained the Rani.

"He does tend to do that," said Jeremiah.

"A plan formed in my mind. I guessed that if this supposedly amazing crime fighter did intervene, Ivy might be vulnerable after the struggle. I decided to lie in wait at Gotham's art gallery every night, until Ivy made her move and the Batman tried to stop her. I have hunted some of my the most fearsome beasts in the cosmos. I know about stealth tactics."

"Did you encounter Ivy?"

The Rani snarled. "That wretched Batman somehow got wind of my night vigils and got to me first. It was incredible. A black shadow just appeared as if from nowhere. Before I could put up a fight, I was handcuffed to the railing with a note for the police left at my side. Then they brought me here."

"It seems to me that they sent you to the right place. While you are here you will receive a course of therapy for your criminally insane delusions."

"I'm not deluded!" wailed the Rani.

Jeremiah ignored her. "In case you are wondering, the Batman had Poison Ivy brought in here as well after he caught her. Perhaps the two of you will get on."

The Rani jumped up and was about to pounce on the doctor, when the two nurses grabbed her and pulled the straitjacket back on.

"Take her to the rubber room," ordered Jeremiah. "Give her a heavy sedation. She needs it." The Rani was duly dragged away.

"How did you get on with the new patient?" asked Jeremiah's secretary when he returned to his office.

"Quite delusional. Turns out she tried to take on both Poison Ivy and the Batman. These supervillains are getting crazier by the dozen," he said. "What was she wearing when they brought her in?"

"Oh, a red tunic with massive shoulder pads, tight red trousers and big spike-heeled boots," replied his secretary.

"Typical super-crook outfit. And 'the Rani?' What a strange pseudonym. She didn't even look Indian. I am quite sure she will be in our care for a very long time."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Eye of the Scorpion, by Ian McLaughlin (Big Finish Audio)

Ancient Egypt is an historical setting that has not been used terribly often in Doctor Who, so it is rather nice to have the place in this audio. Ian McLaughlin has given us a pretty interesting plot regarding the historically unrecorded Pharaoh Erimem, so it would have been nice for this to have been done as a pure historical. Unfortunately, he took the easy way out and gave us an additional plot about alien parasites that does not feel terribly original.

The Egyptian setting genuinely feels like a real place. One small detail did really irritate me and I felt it compromised the authenticity of the drama. That was the clacking sound of the footsteps. I know loud footsteps work best on audio, but it does not fit the historical background. For the most part Egyptians went barefoot, even Pharaohs and noblemen. When Egyptians did wear shoes, they wore reed sandals, a bit like flip flops. These would not have made the loud clacking noises in the sound effects. In an historical, details like this matter.

I'm a big fan of the Fifth Doctor/ Peri line-up. They work wonderfully well together. In this audio, Big Finish introduce a new regular character to interact with this team. This is the female Egyptian Pharaoh, Erimem, played by Caroline Morris. Erimem is an extremely interesting character and very well conceived, even if she does use anachronistic words like 'parasite' and hold sceptical beliefs that are not altogether convincing. Erimem quickly develops a wonderful relationship with Peri that continues to flourish in the following audios. Peri and Erimem seem to be a godsend for femslash writers who have offered some speculation about their relationship. After having to put up with the rather unsexy Evelyn Smythe, listeners may be glad to have two cute girls in the TARDIS.

Peter Davison gives the best audio performance that I have heard from him so far. Rather disappointingly, he is largely written out of one episode. Perhaps Ian McLaughlin was trying to capture the feel of an Hartnell historical. Nicola Bryant is also on top form and sounds rather like she is enjoying every minute of it.

Despite the irritation of the inauthentic footsteps and the deja vu of the sci-fi component, I found this audio massively enjoyable.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Nice Try, Klein, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi scientist from an alternate timeline and briefly a companion of the Seventh Doctor. This story is set between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest.

Klein crept out of bed and tiptoed down the TARDIS corridor, barefoot and in her nightdress. The lights of the TARDIS were dimmed. Time was meaningless inside the ship, yet it had its own artificial cycle of day and night.

Silently, Klein entered the console room.

At last, she had the controls all to herself. She had watched the Doctor so closely. She had seen him guide its journeys countless times. Every move he made, every switch he pushed had not gone unobserved.

Now was her chance to recapture her destiny. She worked the coordinates into the machine, setting it for 1940s Germany. If she could get back to the Third Reich, she could hand over the ship, hand over the Doctor as prisoner and enable the full restoration of her timeline. The victory of the Allies could be erased from history.

The time rota began to rise and fall in a slow rhythm.

The door opened and in walked the Doctor. Did that infuriating little man never sleep?

"Klein, what are you doing at this hour? Rather late, don't you think?"

"I was having trouble sleeping, Herr Doctor."

The Doctor smiled. "You wouldn't by any chance be setting the TARDIS for the Second World War, would you?"

Klein couldn't be bothered to lie. "And if I am? You know what I want, Doctor."

"Why don't we see where we have got to, Klein?" The Doctor studied the hexagonal console.

"Ah, we have arrived on Pluto, Earth year 1975. If you want to put on an environment suit, we can have a look around. Or would you rather try and get some more sleep first?"

"Very well, Doctor. I'll go back to bed, then we explore Pluto in the morning."

Klein padded softly back to her room. She had missed her destination, but she was not far off. She was in the Twentieth Century and she was in Earth's solar system. Just a little more study and she would be equal to the Doctor in her knowledge of the ship.

'Soon, Herr Doctor. Soon we will be even,' she thought to herself.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Ancestor Cell, by Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides (BBC Novel)

"Romana gave an apologetic little cough, and dangled her shoes on the tips of her outstretched toes. She was studying the tattoo on her bare ankle as though it were the most fascinating thing in the whole room."

As this book concludes a story arc begun by Lawrence Miles, I recommend reading his review of this novel before reading mine. Be warned, he does use some strong language.

As an individual novel, I have read many that are much poorer in style and which are much less interesting to read. Nevertheless, The Ancestor Cell cannot simply be treated as an individual novel. Not only does it conclude a story arc, but it introduces a massive change to the Doctor Who universe within the BBC novel line, namely the apparent destruction of Gallifrey.

It has been suggested by some fans that the War in Heaven was such a big whopping story arc that any resolution to it would have been disappointing. My question to those fans would be whether the War arc really needed resolving at all. Obviously, the character arc of Compassion needed to be resolved, but ironically, The Ancestor Cell actually fails to do that. Given that the war between the Time Lords and the unknown Enemy takes place in the Doctor's future, why not just leave the whole thing hanging in the air? If we go back to the Seventh Doctor era, one of the great things about the "Cartmel Masterplan" was that it was not actually a masterplan at all, but just a lot of hints and ideas that were never developed fully enough to cause any massive continuity problems. That all changed when Virgin allowed Marc Platt to turn the "Masterplan" into a real live story arc in Lungbarrow and come up with a disappointing and uninteresting backstory for the Doctor. To my mind, the real mistake of BBC editors was to take the delightfully imaginative elements in Alien Bodies and turn them into a big narrative arc. What would have worked far better would have been to follow the lead of Cartmel and occasionally drop in some hints about what was going to happen in the future war of the Time Lords.

The clumsy solution to the whole War arc is simple. The Doctor pulls a lever and blows up Gallifrey. No Gallifrey, no future war. It seems hard to imagine the Doctor actually doing this, however troubled he may be about the war. Of course, by altering future history this way, he is in fact creating a temporal paradox. Given all the trouble he has had with Faction Paradox re-writing his past, it seems bonkers that he would do this.

Faction Paradox are murdered by this story. In Alien Bodies, they were a seductive cult with a real sense of fun. In Ancestor Cell, they are turned into a bunch of shambling grotesques who nobody would dream of joining. Moving away from cultish or criminal activities, they become a standard set of Doctor Who bad guys and carry out a military invasion of Gallifrey.

The book offers us a half-hearted attempt to reveal the identity of the Enemy. It is suggested in a massive info-dump, that the Enemy are some of weird life form that would have come to dominate the universe had it not been for the Time Lords. This is a massively disappointing idea. Of course, this is not necessarily gospel, as it is a bad guy who claims all this and he could just be wrong. Lawrence Miles tells us this is definitely not his idea of who they are.

The Ancestor Cell gives us a glimpse of a Time Lord society that is utterly corrupt and devious. We already knew the Time Lords were like that. Lawrence Miles moved us on from that idea by combining the Holmsian model of the Time Lords as Machiavellian schemers with the original idea of the Time Lords as gods or elemental forces. The Ancestor Cell ends up making the Time Lords mundane again by populating Gallifrey with bored rich kids and starving homeless people. One thing that really damages the believability of this book is the idea that Castellan Vorzati would suffer prejudice because of a youthful looking regeneration. The Time Lords must have seen countless examples of regeneration to a more youthful body. It is absurd that they should so take appearances into account.

As I said, the one part of the arc that needed resolution was Compassion. At the end of this novel, she makes her escape, taking a Gallifreyan technician as captive. For most of the book, however, she is written out of the action. This is one of the most disappointing things in the BBC books. They gave us a really interesting character and then allowed lame, unimaginative writers to just ignore her.

Romana III, introduced in Shadows of Avalon, is one of the few entertaining elements in this story. She is the campest and bitchiest of camp bitchy characters. Her approach to carpet care is odd though. She complains about characters shuffling about on her carpet, but she walks about on it with high heels. If she really wanted to look after her carpet, she would take off the stiletto heels and ask everybody to remove their shoes. But then science fiction writers never think about that sort of thing.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Parasite, by Jim Mortimore (Virgin New Adventure)

Parasite is not one of the most popular of the Virgin novels. It's certainly not one of my favorites, but I can't say I was particularly disappointed with Jim Mortimore's work here.

As might be expected from a novel entitled 'Parasite' there is an immense sense of visceral horror, with various forms of body infestation described. The sense of body invasion certainly gets under one's skin when reading. I am faintly reminded of Neal Asher's 'The Skinner,' which also creates a similarly vivid alien ecosystem.

The Artifact is beautifully described. The sense of a totally alien environment is a little reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke's Rama novels. The notion of mountains, oceans and jungles floating in a vast zero gravity environment is quite breathtaking. While the world-building is excellent, the plot did tend to meander a little too much.

As with Blood Heat, Mortimore puts the characters through an immense amount of physical and psychological trauma. He does this in an intelligent way, however, and avoids the gratuitous pain that Simon Messingham inflicted on his characters in Strange England. The author does, however, make the mistake of too many New Adventure novels in killing off too many characters. Sometimes it is nice to see characters survive rather than die miserable deaths.

The Doctor's role in the plot is underplayed; the attention is given to Ace and Bernice, though I think this book captures the Seventh Doctor well. It seems clear to me that Mortimore was very keen on the NA portrayal of Ace as a violent thug. The Ace we see in this novel is very much an aggressive person who has been conditioned by her intense military experience. As perverse as it is, I really do tend to prefer this NA portrayal of Ace to the rather uneven performances that we got from Sophie Aldred in Seasons 25 and 26.

Parasite is in my judgment a reasonably good Doctor Who novel.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Gifts for Morgaine, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Ganymede Correctional Facility, 2192

The Doctor was shown to a table in the visiting area of the prison. At the table was sat a woman dressed in the yellow prison uniform. She had long red hair and eyes that burned with a jade fire. Her face was somehow ageless; at first glance she appeared to be a young woman, at the next glance she appeared incredibly old.

Seeing the Doctor, the woman gave a broad smile. "Merlin!" she greeted.

"Morgaine, it's nice to see you again since that business with the Yssgaroth," he replied and sat down. His smile changed to a frown.

"I heard you have been on the punishment wing for beating another inmate," the Doctor said.

"That woman had been abusing othe inmates. The violent bitch got what she deserved," explained Morgaine.

"Am I the only one who ever tries to find a non-violent solution?" complained the Doctor.

"There is no shame in violence," said Morgaine. "The strong must protect the weak. I will not suffer my fellow prisoners to be abused."

"I understand your sentiments, though I'm not sure how consistent you were with them when you were ruling as queen. I haven't come to lecture you, Morgaine. I've brought you some presents."

Morgaine seemed delighted. "How kind of you, Merlin!"

"I have no idea when your birthday is, but I know it's a bit grim in here, so I thought some things might brighten up your day. I did check them with the prison reception. They're all permitted within prison regulations," the Doctor said.

He produced a large shopping bag. From this he took out a pair of gold flip flops and passed them across the table to Morgaine. She smiled with delight, then hastily slipped off her orange prison-issue flip flops to put on the new pair.

"I would have got you some other clothes, but I understand you have to wear those yellow pyjamas. You can at least wear some nicer flip flops."

"How thoughtful, Merlin. These are very nice," Morgaine said.

The Doctor then pulled out a tin of hot dog sausages and a loaf of bread. "You can make yourself some sausage sandwiches." This was followed by a leather-bound book.

" A copy of Emma signed by Jane Austen herself. She told me she was delighted to contribute to the reform and refinement of women in gaol."

"I'm sure I shall be very refined after I have read it, Merlin. Do thank her for me when you next see her."

The next gift was a magazine. The Doctor tried to avert his gaze from the scantily-clad woman on the cover as he passed it to Morgaine. "I know you like this sort of thing, but I was a little embarrassed to buy it."

"Ah, that old lack of spirit in you again," said Morgaine.

"I hope you are not feeling too miserable here?" asked the Doctor

"I do my best to keep my spirits up. My cellmate is good company. Will you let me out some time soon? Prison is alright, but after two hundred years, it is getting a bit old."

The Doctor sighed. He knew he was going to have to remain firm.

"I'm afraid you should have thought about that before you invaded this universe, killed several military personnel, summoned a demon, threatened to launch a nuclear holocaust, not to mention imprisoned my future self in the ice caves for all eternity. Can't do the time? Don't do the crime. Ask me again in five thousand years time."

'Sometimes that little man could be quite insufferable,' thought Morgaine.