Monday, 21 December 2009

Warlock by Andrew Cartmel

Plot: The Doctor and Benny do absolutely nothing, Ace sits on a chair for 200 pages and a bunch of nasty and depressive nobodies spend a lot of time pontificating. Oh and some really nasty stuff gets done to animals…

Master Manipulator: The Doctor really does not contribute a single thing to this book. He is supposedly behind the scenes pulling the strings but really he sends Benny to New York, loses Ace and sits at home whilst everybody suffers. About two thirds through he decides to seek out Vincent and Justine but even that comes to nothing. It’s as though Cartmel just could not be bothered to write the little fella in. I’ve heard people comment that his presence can be felt on every page of this book but I did not get this feeling at all. He just wasn’t there. People die and suffer incredible torment and the Doctor just sits back and lets it all happen. When Vincent sees the Doctor in the back garden he tries to run from him – when did the Doctor become the villain in his own series? His handwriting reveals that he is ambidextrous, English is his second language and he isn’t very tall. He openly talks about his manipulation of Vincent and Justine in Warhead.

Boozy Babe: Benny takes a trip to New York, takes some drugs and comes back again. Seriously this is a real waste of some marvellous characters. I guess her reveal as Miss Witerhill makes are calmness and purity of character during the Warlock cop hunt quite impressive.

Oh Wicked: Ace still sleeps with her gun – old habits die hard. Now and then she gets stirrings for a baby.

Clearly Cartmel is not interested in writing a Doctor Who book, or certainly not one with the current TARDIS team. The small glimpses at them in the text reveal he actually has a good grasp of what makes them tick but he is far more interested in Creed, Vincent and Justine. A shame.

Twists: The thought of the Doctor, Benny and Ace helping a cat give birth in the wee small hours is lovely. The opening scenes compare Ace to the grace and alertness of a cat, they are superbly written – the POV of the cat is especially interesting and well observed (spoken as a proud cat owner). My heart skipped a beat when Chick was kidnapped. Pages 112-114 is quite a reasonable debate about which drugs are legalised and which drugs are criminalized – I’m just not sure why it is in a Doctor Who book. Chapter 12 following Creed on a particularly depressing trip around his house captures the pain of loss beautifully. The end of chapter 13 is horrific in its implications. Vincent is a weapon in human form, amplifying and directing human pain at a target. Vincent experiencing the old mans life is a surprisingly uplifting moment in a truly bleak novel. Pages 227-234 are just superb, the power of Vincent, gathered from the raw hatred Bowman has of his wife, creates a ball of fire that sweeps through the streets roasting people alive and destroys Canterbury Cathedral. Pam comes to the extraordinary conclusion that animals have been inhabited by human minds and takes up her despicable brothers work…

Funny Bits: I rather liked the Cary Grant computer…

Embarrassing Bits: I began this book quite happy, the first chapter is a delightfully well observed piece of writing and I thought I was in for a fascinating commentary on animal behaviour. But as each chapter progress I grew more unhappy…I’m not sure how it happened but there is nothing wonderful in the world of the New Adventures at this point – it has taken far too many steps into the adult world and is revelling in human (and now animal) misery for me to take any enjoyment from it. Being a Doctor Who fan during this period is just no fun. There were a number of elements I could have done without ever appearing in a Doctor Who book and when I mentioned them to my partner Simon (he wanted to know why I kept grumbling whilst I was reading) he asked why anybody would want to write about this sort of terror anyway, let alone in a Doctor Who book.

Here we have got the joys of coke being snorted from a porn magazine, drug dealers being spiked with an alien drug which ends in a horrific bloodbath of a shootout, a 3 year old covered in sores surrounded by dead needles, a character who enjoys torturing and murdering animals, a character attempting to resist the seductive powers of a Warlock pill, faked incest and child abuse, a mouse baby’s head jutting from the side of its mothers ruptured side, a bin full of baby mouse heads, a moment when a human character cannot resist humping a dog up the backside, “Kill her baby and put her to work in the heavy S&M section”, Chick being tortured and injected to death, “scraping out the lining of your womb”, smashing a cats head on a bench, the destruction of a happy marriage and a devastated husband abandoned by his wife…it is a relentless stream of human misery. Quite unsuited to a series about a character who travels around time and space in a police box. Most of this book is just horrible.

Not only that there is practically no plot to speak of. 365 pages makes this one of the longest Doctor Who books but only because the font is massive and we spend most of the book discovering the depressing secondary characters every thought. Whilst this makes for some vivid characterisation, it makes for a really slow moving narrative. Bernice heads to New York to steal some data on Warlock only to be summoned back. The middle 100 pages find the book in a holding pattern – the Doctor plots, Benny does nothing of consequence, Ace is locked up and Creed drowns in self pity…

…and the conclusion does not feel as if any justice has been dished out. The lab is shut down and Pam and Tommy are slaughtered…but it isn’t enough for what the characters have been through. I wanted these people to suffer but everybody got away far too easily. Not only that we close the book on Shell dead, Jack still in the mind of a dog, Vincent heartbroken and Warlock still on the streets…nothing is accomplished and nobody is happy. Is this a commentary on how depressing life can really be?

Result: A shockingly bleak book. Nothing could have prepared me for my reaction to Warlock, a 365 page animal rights thriller pretending to be a Doctor Who book. Andrew Cartmel has an incredible talent, this book is expertly written throughout by a man who can make you feel for his characters…but he wastes his incredible talent on a thoroughly miserable and plotless novel. I adore animals and have two cats of my own so the subject matter truly struck a chord with me and certain scenes told from the point of view of our furry friends were astonishingly good. The book seems to revel in the nastiness of animal experimentation and human misery but shies away when it comes to dishing out punishment and resolving its problems leaving me feeling disheartened and cheated. Creed, Vincent and Justine all spring from the page as living, breathing people but I really wouldn’t want to hang with any of them. The Doctor, Ace and Benny might as well have not been included at all. The New Adventures Depression reaches its height. Anyone feeling suicidal yet?: 4/10

1 comment:

  1. Just read this for the first time... i'm reading the VNA's in order... and having read 34 of them now, i can easily say this is my least favourite.. what a horrible time it was, couldn't wait for it to be over and even made me appreciate and long for Doctor Who about flying buses and the sands of Dubai.