Friday, 18 June 2010

Vanishing Point by Stephen Cole

Plot: In a world where you can meet your God at the end of your natural life and be judged worthy of your actions why is somebody terrorising the people with bombs, ending their lives unnaturally? The Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive to discover some nasty experiments hiding under the surface of a seemingly idyllic world set up and a criminal who will stop at nothing to receive his Vanishing Point…

Top Doc: This is as good as the amnesiac eighth Doctor comes and it isn’t even in a book that is primarily about him, a testimont to how good his characterisation is these days. He is a ruthlessly unpredictable character, very sixth Doctor-ish but more extreme with his violence, more brutal with his condemnation and warmer with his friends. There are so many moments where he lifts the book; from his hilarious cliffhanging with Anji (“One, two, jump!”), his threats to the medic (he basically tells him if he doesn’t give him the door code he will break his arms and legs and once he has access he smashes his head against the wall and bungs him in a cupboard anyway!), howling with laughter as he realises he is on the run again, lashing out with anger when he realises he might be cut off from Fitz again. He clearly gets a kick out of breaking the rules and pushing against excepted beliefs. He admits he knows exactly what loneliness feels like and we learn he spent five days in a mental hospital raving after he woke up on the train. His horror and disgust at the climax when he sees the disfigured child Cauchemar has created is more horrifying than the creature itself. He is extremely violent in places too (which I know is the cause of much upset for many fans but I love it…when he gets pissed off he reacts and anyone who gets all weepy and says he should only get through his adventures on his wits can go and marry Paul Cornell), dishing out quite a few kickings to several henchmen. And to prove he is still the Doctor, despite all the pain he has caused, he still holds out a helping hand to Cauchemar at the climax. When Dark tells the Dark they are the only people in the universe he responds, “How sweet.” Evil whispers to the Doctor, promising adventures and flight.

Scruffy Git: A sucker for an audience apparently (oo-er). He is back in full on klutz mode, falling off a cliff, twisting his ankle and accidentally snapping a mans neck in the first few chapters! Bless him, he used to ask the kids at school to beating him up in places where the bruises wouldn’t show so his mother wouldn’t rush down to the school and complain and earn him another thrashing from the bullies. His sleeping with Vettul has the distinct impression of being both touching and disturbing at the same time but needless to say it is one of his more memorable one nighters. I guess you could say she is failed romance number…ten!

Career Nazi: Anji isn’t sure if she believes in God and has quite an allergic reaction to being told he really does exist, the idea frightening her enough to try and ridicule it and make it more manageable. She is seems to be adjusting to the whole time travelling lark and warming up to both the Doctor and Fitz, longing for something familiar in these whacky adventures and sharing warm embraces with both of them when the danger has passed. Anji admits she probably wouldn’t have been friends with Fitz back home but is starting to see there is more to him than the idiot persona he hides behind. She used to do ballet but she admits she was rubbish. Fitz thinks of her as a posh city chick and after a day working on the farm she realises she has never really done a days work in her life! She has been with older men and has three sisters she used to compete with. Her friendship with Etty is very sweet, initially cold and awkward but eventually full of warmth and affection.

Foreboding: The Doctor is described as a man who belongs in wild places…has Nathaniel Dark been reading The Year of Intelligent Tigers? Anji once plucked a hair from Dave’s head AND tells Fitz if Dave were reborn he wouldn’t know her and they couldn’t be together. Gosh, talk about tempting fate…

Twists: Fitz discovering the freaks is a moment which comes right out of the blue. So is the moment you realise Treena Sherrat was aiming the gun in the bank at her husband, a great moment that comes from some considerable build up. Etty’s condemnation of Fitz is harsh but not as painful as Vettul’s reaction to his excuses. The Doctor discovering Anji wired up to a category G experiment is sickening. The Dark/Lanna scenes are lovely, two lonely people who have lost their faith, finding each other. The whole story of Cauchemar’s criminal history comes right out of the blue. Apparently, he was en route to a prison planet when his ship collided with a meteor and irradiated. On the verge of death the crew were visited by energy beings that offered them a stab at life, to have the criminal souls of the energy race transplanted into their bodies, a symbiotic link to rehabilitate the beings. If they are deemed worthy both the human and the being feel paradise at the point of death, a mutually beneficial existence. The revelation of the baby made up from the DNA of all of Cauchemar’s victims is revolting, the image of the twisting palms of flesh puckering all over its body is enough to turn your stomach. Even more shocking is when Cauchemar accidentally shoots his creation. The names of the henchmen turn out to be grid locations to their bomb sites, a clever ploy I never guessed for one second. At the climax Anji has a moment where she is perfectly willing to smash somebody’s skull in for all the pain he has caused to her friends. The image of the Doctor and his friends holding hands together, offering to take them to new worlds is a lasting one. As is the last scene with Vettul, revealing she is pregnant.

Embarrassing bits: The occasional smutty joke that totally misses the mark…Vettul certainly caused a reaction Fitz’s jeans (groan)! Whilst the answers to the book are totally Doctor Who (and intriguing), using science to explain away magic it seems a shame that just this once it couldn’t just have been a miracle. The downside to having the answers so late is that we never get to explore them much or get to see the aliens who set up the colony.

Funny bits: And yet I found the joke about the carrot on the front of Fitz’s pants hilarious! Any moment with the Doctor and Anji on the cliff face and the Doctor and medic was brilliantly funny.

Result: Reading much fan opinion (stupid me) I expected this to be terrible so imagine my delight at discovering how good it was! My only real complaints surface at the end when you think through some of the answers that were given and realise how underdeveloped they were but considering all the other treats on offer that is hardly the greatest sin. It is surprisingly sensitive in places with some lovely character work that really draws you close to these people and starts to exploit the great potential in the engaging Doctor/Fitz/Anji team. The Doctor has rarely been this fascinating in print. There is much intelligent dialogue too, religious debate that really gets you thinking and some world building that proves quite detailed when seen through the eyes of Etty and Dark, two thoroughly convincing, flawed (in a good way!) characters. The pace of the book is great and there are some wonderfully fun set pieces. Stephen Cole might not be the most sophisticated writer on the planet but by God he can spin a good yarn and ensure that there is never a dull moment and some gob smackingly good ones allow the way: 8/10

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