Saturday, 31 December 2011
Quest stories are great for lazy writers. Just give the characters an objective, an opponent, some obstacles to face and throw in a twist or two to make it interesting. It is a banal strategy, but quite often it actually makes for an enjoyable story. Doctor Who has given us a few quest stories, most notably The Keys of Marinus and The Five Doctors. Christopher Bulis manages to pull this off rather well. Admittedly, it feels like it is aimed at younger readers and it is rather slow to get going, but halfway through it is a fairly exciting, if unadventurous read.
This is a Fifth Doctor and Peri novel. That is what got me reading it, as I am quite a 5/Peri fan, even though I admit the improbability and silliness of a gap between Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani. Both Doctor and companion are characterised very well. Bulis manages to maintain the sense that Peri is new to the business of travelling in time and space. That said, he rather fails to capture the bleak and tragic feeling of Season 21. This feels in general like a positive and upbeat book that contrasts quite a bit with the televised story that follows it. In particular, Bulis gives us a silly retcon regarding Kamelion that rather undermines the tragic narrative of Season 21.
The Ultimate Treasure has a great cast of characters. The police officer,Myra Jaharnus is notably strong, but Alpha the villain is also interesting. Dexel Dynes the reporter is a bit of a caricature, but he is still very fun. The scene in which he interviews one of the criminal goons is very amusing.
That the treasure turns out to be something other than what is expected is no surprise. This novel borrows rather obviously from The Five Doctors in it's resolution.
This is not a deep or clever novel, but it does offer an easy, fun and undemanding read.
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Another year, another Christmas special, another story that I hate.
I am a massive fan of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. I actually write fan fiction about Jadis, my favorite character. It was naturally of some interest that the latest Christmas special takes inspiration from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Doctor Who has often thrived when borrowing influences from other stories and genres. This works best when it is done almost unconsciously; this is quite the opposite. In The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, as with the previous Christmas special, the influences are shouted out over the rooftops.
It is quite clear to me that Moffat does not have a clue what makes the Narnia books so amazing and enjoyable. For a start, the Narnia books are a parent-free zone. The Pevensie parents only make a brief appearance at the end of The Last Battle, they are absent throughout the Chronicles of Narnia. The Narnia books are all about the children having adventures on their own. In contrast, the two evacuees in this story are accompanied by their mother. Their mother enters the strange forest world and the story turns out to be all about parenthood. The last season has shown that Moffat has a peculiar fixation with the theme of fatherhood. While it is a relief to see motherhood getting a mention in this story, it jars completely with the Narnian theme. For Moffat, the idea of children existing independently of a parental relations is simply anathema. In his fictional world, children can have no real existence except within the smothering confines of parental affection. In his book, children just need their daddy and then everything is right with the world.
The second failure to appreciate the Narnia books is in the way the fictional world is presented. Narnia was fascinating because of it's strange inhabitants. The forest world of this story is undoubtedly beautiful, but it feels empty and uninteresting. In fact, it creates no sense of wonder or majesty, but quickly becomes a place of melancholy and terror. On the plus side, the wooden king and queen look amazing, with their delightful folklorish quality, but they are not sufficient to make up for the otherwise hollowness of the forest world.
It is refreshing to see some attempt to deal with the pain and loss in warfare; but this is completely undermined by the resurrection of the children's father. While it came as no surprise and made for an happy ending, it seemed hollow, and almost a denial of the reality of death. I am sure it would have been very upsetting to children watching who had lost their parents and who could expect no return of their lost loved ones. Going back to the issue of motherhood, it also seemed to undermine the attempt to present Janet as a strong capable woman. She was presented as strong and determined, but there was still the suggestion that she was lost without her husband. If you are going to praise motherhood, why not show that mothers can be strong and bring up their children after widowhood as so many mothers had to do in the Second World War?
As for the Doctor, we are served up yet again another portrayal of the Doctor as a Mary Poppins figure who makes everything right for everybody and who appears whenever people wish for him. Does anybody else miss the days when the Doctor was bad-tempered, selfish and a bit scary?
Don't get your hopes up for the next season of Doctor Who.
Sunday, 18 December 2011
This story was built around a proposed opening scene in which Ace is unsuccessfully impersonating the captain of a starship. This premise leads on to what is essentially a parody of Star Trek: Next Generation. Making a parody of Star Trek back in 1989 would have had a caustic note. Back then Doctor Who was a struggling program, unpopular with both fans and public, while Star Trek: Next Generation was proving a massive hit.
Friday, 9 December 2011
Did Stephen Cole really co-write the underwhelming Ancestor Cell? This book is so much better!
Saturday, 3 December 2011
Animal has some stinging, walking plants that are remarkably similar to John Wyndham's Triffids. Sadly, they don't play a massive role in this story, which is a shame because I think the Triffids are the creepiest science fiction monster ever.
Monday, 28 November 2011
'The Doctor closed his eyes. This was her, there was no possible cause to doubt that now. She had lived so much longer than him, lived at his Family home for countless generations. She had tutored his grandfather and his father. She had been there at his birth. She had nursed him, taught him, danced with him, loved him, borne his children.'
Friday, 25 November 2011
I found Kate Orman's Left-Handed Humming Bird a little on the heavy-going side, so I was a bit worried about this one. Nevertheless, as it is Ace's departure story (one of them...), it was pretty essential reading. I was pleased to find that it is a much easier read than Left-Handed Humming Bird and much more enjoyable, while still having all the Hurt/ Comfort elements that Kate Orman seems to love so much (amusingly she actually entitles one chapter Hurt/ Comfort!).
Saturday, 19 November 2011
This is the second part of the lost Season 27. Despite keeping Ace on board, contrary to the original design, it sees the arrival of new companion Raine Creevy (Beth Chalmers), as well as the Samurai-like insect aliens, the Metatraxi.
Friday, 18 November 2011
Placebo Effect has Kleptons in it. Those aliens from the first ever Doctor Who comic strip; the ones that look like Greedo the Rodian. You know what that means? If Placebo Effect is canon, then so are the TV Comic strips. The Doctor really did have two grandchildren called John and Gillian, really did meet Santa Claus and really did call himself Dr. Who. That Gary Russell references the TV Comic without trying to exclude it from the canon (as Steve Lyons did in Conundrum and Head Games) makes me quite favourably disposed towards this novel.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
It's a real tragedy that Season 27 was prevented by the show's cancellation in 1989. Script editor Andrew Cartmel had a clear idea where he wanted to go and Doctor Who had a strong set of leads in Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Given the presence of a clear design for Season 27, it makes a lot of sense for Big Finish to create this lost era on audio. The big problem with this project is that we already have a Season 27 in the Virgin New Adventures. Those books carried on where the show left us in 1989 and to some extent continued the vision that Andrew Cartmel had set for the show. Cartmel himself contributed to these novels, most importantly with Cat's Cradle: Warhead. Not only do we have a Season 27 in the Virgin novels, but we also have a Season 26B in the Big Finish audios set in between Survival and Timewyrm: Genesys.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
"My dear, one of the things you'll learn is that it's all real. Every word of every novel is real, every frame of every movie, every panel of every comic strip."
Friday, 4 November 2011
Sunday, 30 October 2011
The book in which the Doctor gets married, but not to River Song or the TARDIS!
Saturday, 29 October 2011
The novelisation of this story, Dr. Who and the Crusaders was in my school library. I really enjoyed reading it at the age of ten, though it was a little more difficult to understand than other Target novels, for instance The Horns of Nimon. As with so many children, a story about knights had instant appeal. The novelisation contained an interesting piece of dialogue, in which the Doctor explained that the TARDIS crew can never change history. Once they land, they are instantly involved in the flow of history. This is how I understand time in Doctor Who. Whatever planet the TARDIS lands on, it's crew don't work against history but perform their allotted role. So when the Doctor goes to Terra Alpha, in The Happiness Patrol, he does not alter history by overthrowing Helen A. The downfall of Helen A was a part of history, the Doctor simply took his place in the tide of history and brought it about. This does not mean that there is no free-will. The Doctor's knowledge of the future is not exhaustive, so he simply does what seems right in the situation, knowing that history will play itself out. That's not how most fans and Doctor Who writers view history in Doctor Who, but I think this makes sense of a lot of stories. As regards The Crusade, if history were not immutable, then the Doctor would surely have been concerned that his involvement in the politics of the court of Richard the Lionheart could alter history. However, he knows that history is immutable and so nothing he does will alter the outcome of history.
Friday, 28 October 2011
Despite loving the Virgin Doctor Who novels, I really dislike Bernice Summerfield. She has always come across to me as too clever and confident, as well as horribly self-righteous. That tends to keep me from taking much interest in the vast range of Benny Summerfield spin-offs released by both Virgin and Big Finish. It does seem that unlike me, Lawrence Miles likes Benny. He writes well for her, though it did not make me like the character any more.
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Saturday, 22 October 2011
The Doctor : "You are now travelling through time and space."
Ben : "Yes, well, make sure I get back by tea-time!"
Animated reconstruction courtesy of DrWhoAnimator.
Perhaps a good deal of charm in watching this story today is that they don't make anything resembling this these days. Historical adventures are pretty much a dead genre. There are historical dramas with lots of emotion and serious themes, but historical adventures with lots of swashbuckling, black-hearted villains and hidden treasure are a thing of the past. I have never actually seen any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but the impression I get is that they are more in the realm of fantasy than historical action adventure. Perhaps it is a little surprising that this jolly pirate story was followed in the same season by The Highlanders, which is essentially another pirate story. While this story is on the surface a more light-hearted story than The Highlanders, it is apparent that the Troughton story is treated as more of a comedy, particularly in the lead actor's performance. While The Highlanders is enjoyable, the comedy feels out of place in such a dark story, while in The Smugglers, is able to tell an exciting adventure, not quite a comedy, but with a keen sense of fun.
The most obvious difference between The Smugglers and The Highlanders is that the latter provides a swashbuckling pirate adventure that arises from its historical setting, while the former makes no real use of it's historical location (other than the frequency of smuggling in that era). The Smugglers would not have looked out of place in the Colin Baker, with a change of setting to a far future space colony and the pirates as thuggish Sawardian types. It has to be said that the 17th century offers an awful lot of missed potential for historical stories, with events like the Civil War, the Monmouth Rebellion and the Glorious Revolution. One of the really sad things today is the lack of awareness of this period. Our schools teach kids about the Nazis and Henry VIII, but seem to miss out on this much more fascinating period of English history. Likewise film and television producers are fixated with the Tudors and seem to forget about the far more interesting Stuarts.
Obviously we don't know quite what this looked like, as no episodes survive. Nevertheless, given the BBC's talent for producing great historical drama, we can imagine that this looked quite fantastic. Judging from the audio recordings, most of the performances are pretty impressive.
This is the first story with Ben and Polly as companions proper. I love the way that the Doctor explodes with rage when he finds them aboard; there is something adorable about the way the Furst Doctor lost his temper. After they have left the TARDIS it becomes clear that he is coming to accept the arrival of young strays as routine.
Ben and Polly are a glorious companion team. It's tragic that they have only one completed story in the archives. Ben is tough and heroic, but not in the rather stiff Dan Dare mode of Ian Chesterton. As much as I love the original TARDIS team of Season 1, the cockney sailor is a good deal more fun than Ian. Polly is simply delightful. Her Received Pronunciation makes her seem as though she is from another world. Oh for the days when middle class girls spoke properly! Regrettably, the writers were never very consistent in their portrayal of Polly, even within the same story. One moment she is bold, confident and resourceful; another moment she is whimpering at the sight of a rat, as she does here.
One difficulty of this story is how little Ben and Polly seem to take it seriously. They adjust remarkably easily to the realisation that they have been transported to the 17th century. Then when locked in a dungeon, having been accused of murder, Polly talks about how much fun she is having! We could look to the philosopher Baudrillard and say something very postmodern about this. We might suppose that if a person from the Sixties who was used to watching swashbuckling ITC historical adventures were to be transported to the 17th century and placed in the midst of vicious pirates, she might indeed treat this as only a virtual reality equivalent of what she was used to seeing on the television or in the cinema.
There is no complex characterisation here, but we do get a wonderful cast of characters, the vicious Cherub, Longbottom, the creepy church warden, the corrupt squire and the remarkably heroic taxman, Blake. These people are so colourful!
This is not deep and educational like The Massacre or full of emotional drama like The Aztecs, but it is a wonderfully fun escapist adventure story. I doubt that any future Doctor Who producer will ever make anything like this.
Friday, 21 October 2011
In his infamous 2002 interview, Lawrence Miles said of Big Finish:
Sunday, 16 October 2011
Animated recon courtesy of DrWhoAnimator.