Sunday 22 January 2012

Mad Dogs and Englishmen, by Paul Magrs (BBC novel)

Mad Dogs and Englishmen is not just a funny novel, it is laugh-out loud funny. I don't think any Doctor Who novel has made me laugh as much as this one.

This novel is mostly about poking fun at popular science fiction and fantasy. There is a character who is clearly based on J.R. Tolkien, a humourless academic who has written a vast epic about elves and goblins. The central premise of the plot is that the timeline has been altered so that the epic is now about talking poodles (who are in fact real). We also get a good deal of Star Wars parody. There is an hilarious moment when the poodle princess sends a message proclaiming "you are my only hope." George Lucas also has his stand-in as a film director who loves playing with toys and who regards all the boys and girls who watch his films as his friends. He earns the enmity of a character who stands in for Ray Harryhausen by replacing the animatronic effects in his films with CGI. Yet we also have a character from the real world; Noel Coward, who has been obtained the power to travel in time with a pair of magic pinking shears.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen is wonderfully written; it so light and easy to read. The plot is remarkably complex and does not make a lot of sense, but I didn't find myself caring. This book is gloriously bonkers and revels in its own silliness.

We get a return appearance from Iris Wildthyme, who is never actually named. This time she is in an incarnation that is clearly modeled on Shirley Bassey. Perhaps her appearance in this story is a surprise given that the previous novel, Adventuress of Henrietta Street had featured the Master. At this point, the BBC novels were wanting to jettison existing continuity as a source of stories. There is a degree of inconsistency at work here, because the Doctor has no memory of Iris or other Time Lords, despite his previous encounter with the Master.

The regulars are done really well here. The Doctor comes across as knowing what is going on all the time, but keeping quiet just because he enjoys the fun of investigating. Anji is really smart, sassy and very likable here. Fitz seems determined to enjoy himself regardless of how bizarre the adventure turns out to be. There is a wonderfully insane moment when the talking poodles force the Doctor, Anji and Fitz to strip naked, wear collars and walk on all fours. When they protest they are told "Bad people!" It's a delightfully camp scene.

As with other BBC novels set after Ancestor Cell, the presence of magic is very pronounced. There is no explanation for how Noel Coward's magic pinking shears work or how the animatronic monsters are able to come to life. These things are written so well that you don't really stop to think about them or question them.

There is a little bit of excessive violence towards the end and a surprising reference to bestiality, but none of this detracts from the light-hearted tone. This is a novel that I enjoyed immensely.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Twilight of the Gods, by Mark Clapham (Bernice Summerfield novel)

Twilight of the Gods was the last in the series of Bernice Summerfield novels published by Virgin. It provided a resolution of several story and character arcs within the series. Perhaps I was at something of a disadvantage in reading it, as I had only read two of the Benny novels before, Down, by Lawrence Miles and Dead Romance, also by Lawrence Miles.

I think if you read Dead Romance as part of the Faction Paradox range, as I did and therefore saw that story as a standalone, you will be massively disappointed by Twilight of the Gods. Dead Romance was simply an amazing novel, one of the best I have ever read. While it touches on Doctor Who, it is something that can stand on its own merit. I find it incredibly difficult to integrate the epic cosmic horror of Dead Romance with the very average sci-fi plot of Twilight of the Gods. They feel like two different fictional universes (though perhaps if I had read the novels in between the two books I would not feel this way).

Twilight of the Gods provides an explanation of who the gods of Dead Romance are and shows them battling for supremacy on the planet Dellah. For me this completely undermined Dead Romance. In the Miles novel, the gods were a mysterious and terrifying unseen force. Here, they are a bunch of squabbling, incompetent aliens, whose leader talks like an American television presenter.

Twilight of the Gods is for the most part a reasonably decent story, but it lacks either the celebratory mood or the epic climax necessary to conclude a lengthy series of novels. The novel also lacks the sense of cosmic apocalypse that its theme demands.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Quinnis, by Marc Platt (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)

This is the first of the companion chronicles that I have heard. I found it quite easy to listen to. The narrated format probably makes for an easier listening experience than a lot of the Big Finish full-cast audio dramas.

You know what, Quinnis is the first Marc Platt story that I have ever actually enjoyed. While I am a big Seventh Doctor fan, I don't think much of Ghost Light. A lot of fans rave about Spare Parts, but that story did not impress me much at all. However, Quinnis worked fine for me. It was not a big heavy epic story, but a nice easy story with just a hint of darkness. It is also really interesting to get a pre-Unearthly Child story in which Susan and her grandfather are travelling alone.

Quinnis, located in the 'Fourth Universe' was mentioned in Edge of Destruction. Platt takes this throw-away line and builds a quite vivid world. Quinnis is wonderfully described, with a town built on a series of viaducts leading nowhere. The monstrous bird-like Shrazers feel quite nightmarish, like something from folklore. There is a real fairytale quality to this story that reflects both the First and Seventh Doctor era. The Shrazers operate as much on a level of metaphor as reality.

I am one of Susan's rare fans. A lot of fans really dislike the poor girl, but the fact that she is the Doctor's granddaughter makes her really special. For all the limitations of Carole Ann Ford's acting ability, she did give Susan a delightfully ethereal quality that suited her well. Here Carole Ann Ford does a great job of reprising her old role and also providing an adequate, if not brilliant impression of Hartnell's Doctor. Susan is characterized as desperately lonely for companionship and it is this that gets her into trouble. It is also this incident that leads the Doctor to believe that Susan needs a more structured and disciplined life (though that is a little at odds with his contempt for the school in An Unearthly Child).

Alongside Carole Ann Ford is her real-life daughter, Tara-Louise Kaye, who plays a girl that Susan befriends. This girl turns out to be more than she seems. Kaye plays this role very well, giving the character a really disturbing edge, while still allowing the listener the possibility of sympathizing with her.

While the Doctor is far from heroic in this story, he is a much more sympathetic than the sinister Machiavellian scoundrel we saw in An Unearthly Child. This is perhaps a little disappointing. On the other hand, it is lovely to hear him blustering his way out of trouble.

For me this was a lovely introduction to the Companion Chronicles and a fantastic Big Finish production.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Azshara wants a Doctor pt2

The second part of my Doctor Who/ World of Warcraft crossover.

The Doctor doubted he had been in a room this size since leaving Gallifrey. It truly was magnificent. At the far end of the palace lounge, a group of scantily-clad night elves were performing a frenzied dance routine. Their gyrations were a wonder to behold.

The Doctor reclined on a couch. Azshara sat with him, with one leg positioned over his seductively. She planted a kiss on him at every opportunity. It had been a long time since anybody had been so enamoured of the Doctor.

"Tell me, Doctor, is your world as beautiful as this one?" asked the night elf queen.

"Certainly, my dear. The sky is a burnt orange and the leaves on the trees are silver. The Capitol, the great city is a wonder of glass and marble, with many picturesque spires and domes," he replied.

The Doctor was certainly enjoying Azshara's attentions. Her blue skin and long pointed ears were a little odd and her naked feet were surprisingly large, but she was was undeniably beautiful. She was clearly in love with him, though it was an odd kind of love. Her mind did not seem to be able to distinguish her desire for him and her desire for his vast knowledge and mastery of time travel. For all that Azshara was beautiful, the Doctor was convinced she was vain, self-absorbed and at least a little bit stupid. She also had a terrible dress sense with that skimpy dress and those tasteless pink jewels. No Time Lady would have worn such an outfit.

"Grandfather!" came a voice from the other side of the room. Susan skipped barefoot into the room with her usual girlish enthusiasm. Azshara silently cursed with rage at the arrival of the Doctor's wretched granddaughter.

"I've had such a wonderful time today, grandfather," said Susan. "You know I got to ride this massive Saber-toothed cat. It was rather frightening, but it was very fun once I got used to it. I also met a druid. He gave me a really interesting lesson in how magic works. This universe really is quite different to our, grandfather."

The Doctor heard nothing of what Susan said to him. He was too distracted by the shock of her outfit. His granddaughter was wearing only a leather bikini and loincloth. Most of her bottom was exposed to the world. She also wore a bracelet on her thigh.

"My child, I really don't think you ought to be wearing something that leaves so little to the imagination, especially not at your age," he managed to say.

"But all the Kaldorei girls dress like this," protested Susan.

"I noticed some of the Kaldorei ladies are dressed rather more modestly, like Queen Azshara here," said the Doctor. As he said this, he was painfully aware that Azshara's minimalist dress was barely any improvement on Susan's bikini and loincloth.

Azshara was quite amused by this exchange. She clapped her hand and a maidservant approached.

"Worthy Doctor, you have the sensibilities of a dwarf," said the queen. She turned to the maid. "Go to Lady Vashj. Instruct her to find a dress for this youngling," she instructed.

Susan made a sulking expression and followed the maid.

Glad to be rid of the girl, Azshara returned her attention to the Doctor.

"I have waited a long time to find a suitable mate, Doctor. None of the males of my own people could ever suffice. You shall give me children who have your wisdom, nobility and dignity," she said.

The Doctor was really not sure he needed any more children. His granddaughter, Susan, was a handful enough on her own.

"You must stay here and rule at my side, Doctor. You can give me the wisdom I need to purify this world and rid it of imperfection," said the queen.

"I think, my dear, there is something to be said for imperfection," said the Doctor. "Take me for instance, I'm hardly the most impressive looking specimen to grace this world? Hmmm?"

Azshara seemed surprised by this suggestion.

The Doctor continued. "Or take your dress for instance. On some worlds, that dress would be considered quite scandalous and very much imperfect. Yet here it is considered to be very much the thing to wear for ladies."

Azshara had never considered such a notion.

"I rather fear, my dear, that your notion of imperfection is people who ask too many awkward questions about your rule," said the Doctor with a smile.

As the Doctor and Susan returned to the TARDIS, Azshara followed after them.

"You cannot leave me behind here, Doctor!" pleaded Azshara. "I need your wisdom, your power, your knowledge."

"I am sorry but my destiny lies there," said the Doctor, pointing to the Well of Eternity. "Your destiny lies with your people. Do rule them sensibly, my dear."

"If you cannot stay, take me with you! I could be your companion. We could travel together through time and space! You can show me the wonders of many worlds!"

"I really don't think so," said the Doctor and closed the TARDIS door.

With a wheezing, groaning sound, the statue of Azshara disappeared, leaving the original alone in her imperfect world.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor snorted at the absurdity of Azshara's suggestion. Take a companion? Travelling with his granddaughter was company enough. The very cheek of it!

Monday 2 January 2012

Azshara wants a Doctor Pt1

A Doctor Who/ World of Warcraft crossover.

Azshara queen of the night elves uses her magic to lure a powerful being to Azeroth. But instead of Sargeras, it turns out to be the First Doctor.

Note: This is a pre-Unearthly Child story. The TARDIS is not yet stuck as a police box.

Azshara watched anxiously as the Night Elf highborne focused their magical energy onto the Well of Eternity. The portal they had created crackled and swirled with sorcerous power.

It was Azshara's plan to bring to Azeroth a great and powerful god; one who would marry her, rule at her side and rid the world of imperfection. As the magical force in the Well of Eternity intensified, she could sense the god's presence.

Azshara was startled when she heard a strange wheezing, groaning sound. It sounded quite abhorrent to her long pointed ears, but she sensed that it heralded the god's arrival.

Something began to materialise before the Well of Eternity. To her amazement, she beheld a statue of herself. It was identical to countless statues across Zin-Azshari. It was hued from the finest granite. It was dressed exactly as she was, in a sleeveless gown split at the side, exposing her shapely thigh. Its stone feet were bare.

What greater honour could the god bestow upon her but to send an image of a very form? Truly this being from beyond the cosmos had accepted her devotion!

The night elf queen was even more surprised when a door seemed to open in the statue. Two strange creatures stepped out. They both had peculiar skin in a colour that Azshara found difficult to describe. Their ears were tiny and rounded. One of them was old and wizened with white hair. He walked with the aid of a stick. The other appeared much younger and was clearly female, despite her alien appearance.

"So we've come to a different universe, grandfather?" asked the female being.

"Hmmm,yes, my child. We seem to be making a habit of it since visiting Quinnis in the Fourth Universe. This one appears to be a quite different place," replied the old one.

Azshara boldly approached the two strangers, her jewelery tinkling as she moved daintily on her bare feet.

"Greetings, great lord from beyond," said Azshara. "Welcome to this world. I am Azshara, queen of all the Kaldorei. You do me great honour in arriving in a vessel shaped in my own likeness."

The old one smiled.

"Yes, it changes shape when it arrives. I do think it does quite nicely in that one."

Despite his aged and humble-looking appearance, Azshara knew that the old one was a being with tremendous wisdom and terrific power. She felt love arising in her heart already. She had to win him and learn his secrets!

"May I ask your name, great lord?" asked the night elf queen.

"Yes, of course. I am the Doctor," he replied. He gestured to his female companion. "And this is my granddaughter, Susan."

Susan gave the night elf queen a shy smile. Azshara looked at the girl and decided she absolutely hated her. Why did the great lord Doctor have to arrive in the company of such a pathetic little girl?

"I offer you both the hospitality of my palace. You are honoured guests in my lands."

Azshara summoned her highborne to her side. They bowed low before the Doctor and Susan.

"Lady Vashj here will show your granddaughter the sights of Zin-Azshari and introduce her to suitable young companions. I am sure she will enjoy that. Then you and I can talk of great things, Doctor," said Azshara.

Susan protested. "I'd much rather stay with my grandfather, if you don't mind," she said.

"Nonsense, child," said the Doctor. "You go off and have fun. I think Azshara and I have adult things to talk about." He winked at the night elf queen.

Susan sighed and followed Lady Vashj. Azshara took the Doctor's hand and began to lead him towards the palace.

The Doctor found all this very amusing. These Kaldorei creatures seemed to think he was some sort of god. They were clearly a primitive and superstitious people. On the other hand, their queen seemed to be taking a very personal interest in him. He had absolutely no objection to that. This was looking like a very stimulating trip.