Thursday, 25 March 2010
Plot: Join Dr Who and Jason as they hunt down the most fiendishly villainous and evil gang of despots the universe has ever known: the Doctor, Chris, Roz, Benny, Ace and Mel. Yes I said Mel.
Master Manipulator: Oh. My. God. The seventh Doctor has finally lost his mind. I have heard people say that the eighth Doctor was dangerously close to losing his sanity during the latter half of the EDAs (a not unfair comment) but clearly those people have never read Head Games which sees the Doctor portrayed as a lonely, totally fucked up alien who has rather pathetically bought into his own mythology. I have been extremely vocal about my dislike at poking around inside the seventh Doctor’s head and exposing its ugly innards but thanks to my friends at Outpost Gallifrey I could see what the writers were trying to do. I didn’t like it, but at least I can understand it now. Showing a man conflicted with his place in the universe in Timewyrm: Revelation and watching him manipulate his companion in Love and War, realising the harm he has caused in Lucifer Rising. Losing Ace was the biggest step to him pulling himself together; he wants to be at peace with himself so he becomes human in Human Nature. Since then he has been fun, rounded and carefree…why on Earth would they drop us back in the middle of all this crap again? Was this learning curve for nothing? Here he’s back to being agonisingly angst ridden, pompously self important and callously inhuman. They call it development. Go figure.
The Doctor was trying to hold on to the good times but the bad memories were washing over the good ones until only misery and guilt remained. He is lying and manipulating his companions again. Ace had walked through his mind and seen his deepest, darkest fears and he had always felt vulnerable to her since then. On pages 44-45 the Doctor makes his adventures sound like a military manoeuvre. Dr Who and Jason are attempting to imprison the Doctor for his evil crimes (Blood Heat, The Pit). He is worried that the black and white days of the Dalek invasion might be the ‘good times’.
Mel makes a shock return to the series and the book seems far more concerned with her shocked reaction to the Doctor’s current lifestyle than actually enjoying its plot. Steve Lyons is obviously criticising something, but I don’t think even he knows what. The observations that Mel makes can be seen in two ways. Either the writer is heavily criticising the direction the series has taken and the way the Doctor is being portrayed (which is a strong possibility given how she storms out of his life disgusted at the end of the book, their friendship over) or a two fingered salute to those who do complain about these things (erm that includes me, actually) because the Doctor doesn’t apologise for his actions and Ace hugs him once Mel has left and says, ‘You might be a bastard, but you’re still our bastard.’ Some of Mel’s comments really strike home: ‘He wouldn’t let someone in the TARDIS like that, a gun toting killer!’ and ‘You’re not the Doctor I knew. You’re a liar and a user and quite possibly a murderer. I don’t wish to know you anymore.’ The contrast between the Doctor of, say Paradise Towers and the Doctor here is a world apart.
Head Games proudly touts the idea that the seventh Doctor killed the sixth Doctor and has buried him deep inside his mind where he rages and tries to break free. Final proof that the seventh Doctor has finally gone completely and utterly mad. Go and read his vicious mental battle with his former self, a horrifying case of schizophrenia if ever I saw one. I think he has made up the imprisonment of the sixth Doctor to punish himself because he hates what he has become and needs to justify it to himself. ‘You would have barged in a made things worse! I have this body now and I will do what’s right!’ In his ravings with his former self the seventh Doctor is constantly, desperately trying to defend his actions. He’s bought so much into his role as the master manipulator (or Time’s Champion) that he thinks he forced Mel out of the TARDIS to use her as a pawn at some future date (funny that we never discover what that purpose was). On page 205 he starts tying himself up in knots over his role in Time. He has lost his grip on his sanity, under the impression that he has such an important role to play (‘Fenric had sent Ace. I couldn’t avoid my responsibilities any longer. I had to take charge. You didn’t have a role in the mission.’) He’s utterly potty, so convinced he is all powerful that he thinks he killed himself to exist. He admits he hates his previous self, his past and his future. By thinking that he has imprisoned a murderously raging sixth Doctor he could justify its emergence and his becoming the Valeyard in a later regeneration. Whatever way you look at it this Doctor has become schizophrenic, bonkers and utterly messed up: ‘I had to exist. You know that. No manifestation before me could consider the consequences of what we must do. We were too young when we left Gallifrey. We created paradoxes, set time on one course but undermined that too. Someone had to tie the loose threads up. Someone had to become Ka Faraq Gatri. I had to take responsibility.’ What a nutter. You might love this incarnation, warts and all, but this truly is as close to psychotic that the Doctor ever got and its utterly chilling. His final statement, lying to his friends again, is ‘I’m sorry but my duty must take precedence over all.’ Oh fuck off. ‘I am Time’s Champion and guilt is something I can no longer afford!’
Boozy Babe: Frankly Benny’s boasts about how the Doctor killed billions of people in the Althosian system is about as unlikable as she gets. Oh don’t worry, we gave him a hard time, she states very casually. She laughs until her sides hurt when Mel admits she thinks the Doctor regenerated because he banged his head on the console.
Stroppy Copper: Again we are reminded about her casual racism. Mel is appalled that a gun toting copper is the Doctor’s companion but Ace rather likes her. Whose opinion would you trust? She feels pangs when she thinks Chris is falling for a woman although she knows that is silly because their relationship has never worked like that. The bond between the two adjudicators was so much more than that.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Finally Chris gets some decent development! He plays a large, active role in Head Games, captured by the enemy, falling in love, betrayed by the Doctor. ‘I think I have been tricked into committing genocide’ – the Doctor sends him on a mission to destroy the crystal that is bleeding fictional energy into our reality, forgetting to mention that a planet is reliant on that energy to survive. Chris, naïve as ever, hops into action and realises what he has almost done like a bullet to the stomach. He confronts the Doctor about it but gets no apologies. He is not sorry to see the back of the poverty stricken Undertown and was not happy to be back. The place seems smaller now he has travelled the universe. Roz Forrester was the one constant in Chris’ life and the one thing that stops him giving up.
Oh Wicked: Brilliantly, the chapter that introduces Ace back to the series is called The Bitch Is Back. How apt. Jason takes one look at her and concludes: ‘This one obviously blows up worlds in her free time.’ Ace’s need for the Doctor, once so strong, was very much no in the past. Her confrontation with Mel is full of bitterness: ‘Now look what you have turned into? A hardened space bitch!’ ‘I hope you never have to find out what real life is like, “Doughnut”.’ When she asks how many people Ace has killed (423) Mel screams at her to get out. When Mel walks out of his life, Ace feels the need to comfort him when he is hurting and hugs him.
Screaming Violet: Oh my oh my, Melanie Bush. This book is a real eye opener for the computer programmer from Pease Pottage. I really like the back-story that Mel is given here, it is nice to know that not all of the Doctor’s companions have it easy once they leave him. She left Glitz and headed for Earth, aware of its decimated state in this time zone and on a mission to pull its populace together and rebuild. She was stranded on Avalone for two years with no way of escape and in the end contacts Glitz to help her. Typically he ignores her hails until she bypasses the security of the Galactic Bank and lures him in with promises of money. Surprise, surprise…he answers but whilst agreeing to rescue her he also half inches 2 million credits…leaving a trail to Mel’s computer. She is on the run from security when the Doctor picks her up and things just get worse for her from then on. Her complaints range from she cannot reconcile the current Doctor with lovable rogue she once knew, Ace has turned into a murdering villain (hmm), Benny is a sarcastic and heartless companion and everybody is walking around with guns. She does over state her case in a few cases but she does make some very succinct points. She walks out of the Doctor’s life for good…doing what I would probably have done if I was Bernice or Ace. A firm, dramatic statement.
Foreboding: Ace returns with a message from the Doctor’s future self to warn his previous self about Kadiatu. I thought we’d put that nonsense to rest as well but tit does lead into the next book.
Twists: I think I’ve covered this above. Bambera makes an appearance and she and Ancelyn have twins!
Embarrassing Bits: All of the scenes on Detrios are boring as the sin. Once again there is no consistency in the narrative, the first fifty pages are overstuffed and overwritten and largely incomprehensible until you figure out that fictional energy is bleeding into our reality. The only time we ever see this enraged sixth Doctor is when this energy is infecting our reality, making anxieties real proving that the seventh Doctor has lost the plot.
Funny Bits: ‘Look I agree that this place isn’t perfect. But Queen Elizabeth II is a respected historical figure where I come from. You can’t just barge in there and…and beat her up!’
Result: A chaotic, dramatic, overfilled fist shake at the New Adventures, Head Games sees Steve Lyons finally lose the plot to make some strong points about the range. It is an interesting work because he throws criticism in the air but doesn’t make any final judgements…leaving this up to the reader which consequently makes this one of the more thoughtful novels in the range. However the Detrios scenes are entirely skippable, making a third of this novel completely irrelevant. What does work is the Dr Who and Jason plot which becomes great fun after a while, storming Buckingham Palace, assassinating the Queen and generally having a gay old time with anarchy. Mixed in with the terrifying glimpses at the disturbed seventh Doctor and Mel’s striking return there is plenty to enjoy here. Being a work of fiction about fictional characters it is no where near as clever or funny as Conundrum but I think this book has rather more to say about current affairs than Lyons’ earlier book. A massive step up from the last three books, although I am disturbed that the series should continue with such a nut job at its heart: 8/10
Saturday, 20 March 2010
Plot: History and the future are whipped up when a spaceship is shot down during World War II. Thanks to some of its devices there is the incredible possibility that Hitler survived the War and is planning to blow the world apart with dark forces. For the Doctor and the Brigadier this proves to be one of their most emotional journeys…
Theatrical Traveller: I have not read a sixth Doctor PDA that has captured him as well. He is amazingly handled, from his childish excitement sticking his head out of a car window and about to leap from a plane over France, or his sudden temper. Don’t you love the way he just rushes into danger, head first and damned the consequences? He charges through the book, bright, troubled and boisterous. The sixth Doctor was an extremely thoughtful character underneath all that bluster and Cole and Richards take the time to give him some sensitive moments to balance out his arrogance elsewhere.
There has never been a magician like the Doctor. There was such spirit in his rounded face and in his glittering blue eyes, he looked the kind of man who had taken some knocks from the universe and was more than ready to give a few back in return. When asked if he is travelling alone his brash front slips [possibly this is where he said goodbye to Evelyn because at the end he thinks of going to the seaside which could tie in with his meeting of Mel]. Although garish to the extreme, the Doctor is as lithe as a cat. The mutant offspring of Joe Bugner and Ronald McDonald yet more of a grand theatrical than a cheap, gaudy showman. There is a sorrow about him, anyone so blatantly scorning conformity must secretly hope one day they would find somewhere to fit in. He is still good friends with Churchill (see Players). As he parachutes over wartime France, the days ahead filled with risk, danger and adventure, he cannot think of anywhere he would rather be. He thinks about the consequences if he broke the first law of Time and what his previous incarnations would say…the tall one with the teeth and the dark mass of curly hair would have been up for it but the ruffle shirted toff with the big nose would have had a fit at the nearest suggestion! He was more serious and pragmatic now; he would see how he felt at the time! At the books tragic conclusion the Doctor considers his life: “Oh yes, well done me. Always me. Whipping up a storm and waiting at its epicentre, watching as others are swept up around me… but only watching out for myself.” He wants to breathe clean air again.
Chap with the Wings: The very best of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart in one book. He still gets a thrill at the sight of the unknown, but this is soon followed by guilt and regret. He was retired, his days at UNIT long behind him. Without his wife Doris he feels empty. It irked the Brig to think it might be getting too much for him to keep up with the Doctor. Although more sombre than the Doctor in appearance and manner, there is a likable warmth to the Brig. He might not know much about computers but he knew how to get people to work for him. He was more than just a commanding officer – he had been a brother, father, mentor and friend to his men as well and in an organisation like UNIT that was an awesome combination. Intelligence and analytical skill were two of his surprising strengths. He firmly believes that Hitler is one of the most monstrous and evil men who ever lived. A few years ago it would have been him planning the heroics but his reactions and senses were older and slower now. His strength was reduced and his confidence in his abilities was perhaps tempered by the mitigation of those abilities and a sense of realism. And of morality. The Brigadier offers reassurance and understanding to his best friend at the climax: “Watching from here you have a choice of views. The dead past of one side. And one this side, the present. The living present that will lead to the future. Doctor, I know you’re compelled to walk between the two…always will be. But don’t ever forget the differences you make. Even if the battle seems lost…the war’s won.”
The Big Story: Shadow in the Glass features one-off companion Claire Aldwych who proves far more interesting than a single book should offer. She starts the book working for the Conspiracy Channel but wanted to work for the big shot channels. The way you could interpret the real world behind the camera was what interested. She’s waiting for the Big One, the story that will get her noticed. She is instantly drawn to both the Doctor and the Brig. She thinks that Sarah Jane Smith has done some amazing journalism over at Metropolitan. After her house is broken in to she cannot imagine ever feeling safe there again. When she learns she can actually travel back in time and meet Hitler she will no take no for an answer. She delays returning to the TARDIS to take some pictures for her story but realises she cannot betray the Brigadier – her friend – by abusing his trust. The image of the Doctor and the Brigadier staring down at her corpse, grief stricken, is astonishingly raw and emotional.
Foreboding: The final twist of Claire’s death is expertly teased into the plot with lots of lovely hints and STILL I didn’t realise. ‘Seems history is saving me for better things’ she says when she survives an attack. ‘The bodies were badly burnt. Eva Braun’s even more than Hitler’s…’ Page 209 sees her think this is the story that will see Claire Aldwych go down in history.
The Brigadier thinks it would be wonderful if you didn’t have to grow old – not aware of what the future holds for him!
Twists: Chapter two is an imaginative and entertaining way of relaying much information – the fact that so early in the book Claire is talking (unbeknownst to her) about her own body is a sign of how well written this is. The cover is amazing – we are all expecting Hitler to arrive and yet when he does appear in the Scrying Glass it is moment of dumbstruck horror. Goldman stabs himself in the throat rather than betray his friends and family. It is a Vvormak ship that has crashed landed and the red-eyed imps that are flicking in the shadows of every scene are extensions of themselves, attendants that exist on a different plane. The Doctor and the Brig get some great action; car chases, punch-ups and attempting to halt nuclear detonation! The Germans attacked the village in 1944 and half inched the longevity unit, meaning Hitler could be alive. Chapter 18 is excellent, a convincing explanation of how the Scrying Glass exchanged hands in the war and ended up Nazi property. Claire and the Brig doing historical research should be as dull as dishwater, instead it is fantastic. The Doctor was part of the raid on the village and realises it was Henderson who exerted all the life extending energies, not Hitler. In 15 minutes Claire thinks they are putting the kettle on, the Doctor and Brig nip back in time attend a ball and take a sample of Hitler and Eva Braun’s blood. There is some great mis-direction, Hitler really is dead and it was Eva Braun who had the double. She was pregnant, that why there were blood tests and why they got married and why there was the double…so she could escape with Hitler’s baby. Thus the man we have thought of as Hitler is in fact his son. The Scrying Glass has deceptively shown Young Hitler scenes that would get it reunited with its ship. The devil in the glass that Young Hitler thought was a reflection, not a portent. Confronted with his grown son in his final days of madness, Hitler draws his gun and shoots him through the forehead. Claire realises too late that the bomb crater she was expecting outside the bunker is imminent and is caught in the explosion and taken by Bormann, murdered and used as a dummy body for Eva Braun.
Result: Two underrated authors at the top of their game, Justin Richards aces plots and ideas and Stephen Cole knows his character and dialogue…together this book has everything. It is a superb conspiracy tale, well researched and tightly written. What I love is how beautifully everything falls together, the plot construction is meticulous and it climaxes on a devastating twist. Its full of memorable scenes; the Doctor’s punch up in the crater, the Brig coming face to face with Hitler, Claire’s disturbing realisation that she is about to blown to pieces and the characterisation of the regulars only serves to boost the effect of the novel. An intelligent, emotional read…one of the highlights of the range: 9/10
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Plot: The Players are back and this time they have decided on an endgame, uncaring if they tear the world apart in their struggle. The Doctor is slowly getting bored with the human race, of Earth, of the endless repeating conflicts…how on Earth will he react when he realises he is one of the Players pieces…?
Top Doc: Oh dear. And it was going so well. There isn’t anything instructively wrong with the Doctor’s characterisation here, and indeed his violent behaviour and severe disinterest in human behaviour marks this out as one Terrance’s more interesting stabs at a non-Pertwee Doctor, but compared to the complex work done with his character in the past four books it pales into insignificance. There is a fair stab at trying to capture the Doctor’s depression and nonchalance. He sat their motionless as the darkness gathered around him…what a disturbing image of our once brave Time Lord, lurking in museums and library, pushing away adventure and excitement because he cannot be bothered to fight any more causes. This certainly is a new look for the Doctor, one who doesn’t care about politics, or the life of one man and will only get involved when his blue box is stolen and used to blackmail him. It is in this book that he realises he hasn’t aged a bit since waking up on the train carriage. In one the books more fascinating sequences (alas written by Justin Richards to fill some page space) the Doctor is offered his memories back and he declines, fearing that the knowledge will be too dangerous. But in the end of the day a bored Doctor makes for a bored reader and he, like me, seems to be on the periphery of the story, rushing through it so he can get on with something more interesting.
Foreboding: The TARDIS is starting to regain some its detail, there is some lettering starting to appear and it now has a texture, like woodgrain. The Players would return again to haunt the sixth Doctor, which paradoxically was published before this. In publishing terms they will return to fox the second Doctor in World Game, which ironically in canonical terms takes place before this. But concerning the Players it takes place after this. Gah! I need an aspirin! Lets just say given this is a Terrance Dicks book and given his love of recycling ideas rather than thinking up fresh ones…the Players will be back!
Twists: The TARDIS is kidnapped by Philby, the only thing in the world that will get the Doctor to play spy. President Truman is pushed dangerously close to nuclear attack. The Doctor is framed for espionage by Philby who wants him to head to Moscow and investigate the hostile Stalin. The conversation between the Countess and the Doctor is great, genuinely seductive and powerful. The Countess’ change of heart is a testament to the Doctor’s persuasive powers. When the Doctor is offered a high up position by the President he declines in favour of a quieter life.
Embarrassing bits: Sheesh, where do I start. Why don’t I just paste this from my review of the book on the Ratings Guide which sums up my feelings beautifully…
Terrance’s embarrassing personality traits for each of historical figures scarcely does them justice…Guy Burgess is a raving drunken poof, Don MacLean is a suspicious sceptic, President Truman is a tough sonofabitch…it wouldn’t matter so much but these shallow character traits are highlighted by being repeated again and again until I was cringing (especially that sonofabitch!). Worst of all is how Philby spills out all of his special agent secrets to the Doctor after knowing him for five minutes. After being undercover for years and working for three different agencies it seems highly unlikely he would admit everything to a total stranger. And I know Terrance is trying to give us all a history lesson but his dialogue for Philby when he explains the background to the Cold War to the Doctor (Jesus man…where you been?) sounds like a teacher addressing his student in very…simple…terms. I cannot stand being spoken down to in any form of storytelling and this was frustratingly patronising.
Result: And it was going so well…but I suppose we had to be brought back to Earth sooner or later and be reminded that this is a Doctor Who book series where childish, patronising storytelling runs free. This is a quick read if you are after nothing more than fluff but the Earth Arc to this point have been so much more than that. Terrance barely injects any effort into this; it feels as though he reeled it off in a day or two with his standard descriptions and plot mechanics. There is some fun to be had seeing the Doctor meeting up with so many historical figures but much of their characterisation is piss poor, especially compared to the depth of the previous book. The Players are hardly the most fascinating villains to begin with and their worldwide struggle could have been far more interesting than this cartoonish game they play here. A huge misstep for the range, shallow and uninvolving for the most part and wasting time when there is clearly so much more to the Doctor’s exile to explore: 3/10
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Plot: Children are being kidnapped across the world, tempted away by giant teddy bears. The Doctor, Benny, Roz and Chris are investigating, befriending the parents and looking into the mysterious manufacturers of the teddy bears. They soon discover the children are being used as a part of a scheme of genocidal proportions…
Master Manipulator: The Doctor is said to examine things like a kid in a sweet shop. Looking into his eyes gave the feeling of immense forces stirring, a conflict of which he was the champion. In a very sweet gesture the Doctor promises to bring food for the starving Edi from time to time and you know that he means every word of it. He opens a shop called Doctor Smiths Pies for All. Benny was beginning to wonder if the Doctor was going to tell her anything at all. But then that was the Doctor, you worked with it, you put up with it. Presumably he did know what he was doing; he just didn’t like sharing that knowledge with anyone else. It was irrational but the Doctor felt personally responsible for all the hurt and he felt the need to repair some of the damage.
Boozy Babe: Confident, modern but not that young. She is brainwashed into recruiting and in a oddly muted moment betrays the Doctor, leading the enemy straight to him. Her condition is broken when she sees a child literally torn to pieces. The image of her crumpled in the TARDIS doorway, blood running down her face is a potent one. Half a million children being abducted does not disturb Benny but the fact that it doesn’t disturb does disturb her.
Stroppy Copper: Once again it is Roz who is treated the strongest characterisation of the newbies. It’s almost as if the writers are preparing us for the fact that she will be the first to leave. She looks like someone who knows her place in the world and doesn’t take orders from anyone. Roz promising to find out what happened to Gabrielle is an incredibly humanistic gesture that shows how far we have come since the gung-ho Ace era. Roz is clearly affected by Amalie’s death, so much so she wants to violently convince the Doctor to taker her back to save her. She is so unaccustomed to racism it takes her an age to figure out why people are treating her so oddly. The sick behaviour she is treated to on the train (‘Darkie’, ‘They smell, you know?’, ‘Where is your Master?’) would be enough to make anyone see red but Roz, suddenly realising that it is the colour of her skin that is offending so many people is speechless for the first time in her life. She wanted to go home; she was tired of finding out things hadn’t been invented yet. She wanted to get back to a place where things worked the way she understood.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Gentle, naïve and confused. Chris actually leaves this book quite a resourceful chap. He proves effective in action in several scenes, in particularly taking control of their rapidly plummeting aeroplane. He also manages to calm Roz down during several potentially explosive moments. We still haven’t seen what makes this boy tick though, what he believes in, what he thinks of this time travel lark. Is it that Roz is just more interesting?
Twists: A surreal opening sees teddy bears kidnapping children, brilliantly surreal in a way Doctor Who specialises in. Josef’s story (a Jewish family living in Germany) reminds me of Markus Zuzak’s Book Thief in all the best ways. The Doctor and Roz comforting the mothers of the missing children is a poignant and heartfelt opening to the story. A séance leads to a ammunition shell exploding in the middle of the drawing room. In a top dramatic moment Amalie decides to help Chris and Roz to escape and steps in front of a bullet to protect them. They try to save her but the resources available aren’t good enough. In a gloriously cinematic moment Chris and Roz’s plane is shot at and the pilot is killed…Chris makes it to the cockpit as the plane nosedives and drags it into the air, bullets spraying into the body of the plane. 2,846,1452 have been killed in the Recruiters scheme.
Result: A sensitive and poignant opening few chapters leads into another disappointing novel, frustratingly so because many of the elements are very good indeed. Leonard’s prose is superb, very polished in places and capable of planting the reader into a scene with stark vividness. It took me 10 days to read Sky Pirates(!) but it only took me three hours to plough through Toy Soldiers. Seeing the regulars through the eyes of the guest cast is pleasing, although Benny and Chris are rather underdeveloped. There a quite a few exciting and perceptive moments but the book is not sewn together with any skill. Things happen, the Doctor trips on the enemy and casually talks him into stopping the war and the countless deaths go unpunished. I got the feeling Leonard was bored with the book and typed up the conclusion in few minutes. It doesn’t help the potentially gripping idea of kidnapping children to go to war is squandered on one of the most brain meltingly ridiculous schemes the series has ever offered. Like so many of these New Adventures it ends up delivering far less than it promised. Unmemorable: 5/10