Friday, 8 October 2010

Christmas on a Rational Planet by Lawrence Miles

Plot: Reality falls apart. It’s all the Time Lords’ fault. The Doctor is the ultimate agent of Reason. Roz is clearing up sick. Chris has to make the ultimate decision in the history of everything. The TARDIS rocks.

(Before I go on I would like to say thank goodness for this novel. To say the New Adventures have been cruising for a while would be an understatement. Let’s look at the past ten books. Zamper was dull. Toy Soldiers was underwhelming. Head Games was schizophrenic, interesting but offering some really scary observations. The Also People was delicious but low key. Shakedown was irrelevant. Just War was astonishing but again felt like the series was cruising. Warchild was tidying up loose ends. Sleepy was a yawn fest. Death and Diplomacy was worse than Sky Pirates. Happy Endings was more fluff. GodEngine was atrocious on every conceivable level. The Also People and Just War come up trumps but they are both self contained adventures. The rest of these books see the New Adventures cruising along, telling okay but not especially good stories (and some seriously bad ones). I was starting to wonder if we had seen everything this series had to offer when along came Christmas on a Rational Planet…)

Master Manipulator: Miles starts from the ground up. It’s the Doctor’s series so it seems only fair that he should offer us some startling insight into the Time Lord’s mind. The Doctor is trying to wean himself off his umbrella and is using a walking cane. He hates the feeling that things are going on behind his back. He still has his PRIME computer (‘Clever PRIME’). He admits he is the man who is usually responsible except when he is the man who is irresponsible. Smith is becoming dangerously close to becoming the Doctor’s name. The Memory Store in the TARDIS is the records of the version of history the way the Doctor thought it should have happened. He once spent 26 years putting his books in order and it was the best meditation of his life. There is a fantastic description of how the Doctor allows himself to think like a human on page 158, slipping into ‘ephemeral mode’ and perceiving time as linear. He is described as an anomaly in a crowd and a ‘devil with two hearts’. Perhaps he had spent so long playing in dark places he always knew where to find the chaos and brought his own kind of order to it. Without humans the Doctor might as well not exist, he’d be a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. ‘You pretend to be a spanner in the works, Doctor, but you’re as much part of the machine as the dictators and the bureaucrats.’ Page 248 sums up the Doctor up as well as I have ever read: ‘I’ve done so much. Saved entire races whose names I can’t even remember. And why? Because of reasons. Because of principles. Truth, love and harmony. Peace and goodwill. The best of intentions.’ Brilliantly the Doctor comes to realise that the TARDISes manipulative behaviour is modelled on his own: ‘If you’re and interfering old stout it’s not surprising that your ship is as well!’ In a moment of rare affection the Doctor pats his ship, realising that part of him has saved the day.

Stroppy Copper: Christmas on a Rational Planet plays wonderful games with Roz. Thank God. I was starting to wonder if her excellent treatment in Just War was just a fluke! This book finally proves that Roz is a million times more interesting than Chris simply because it spends about the equal amount of time in each of their heads and we learn lots of great stuff about Forrester but practically nothing about Chris. But more on him later…

Roz is posing as a Negress witch woman: ‘Abracadabra, shalom, shalom, I see into the mists of time and stuff, blah blah blah…’ Roz’s insane (and slightly brilliant) method of summoning the Doctor is to shoot Abraham Lincoln’s father! When the Doctor scolds Roz for such an irresponsible action she bites back admitting she cannot live in a world without rules. She doesn’t know if the next person she meets will feel sorry for her or kill her and she’s not sure which is worse. The Doctor has stated talking to her the way he used to with Bernice and she doesn’t want to fill her shoes because facetiousness doesn’t come easy to her. She believed in the Empire, until it tried to kill her. One day she will have to go back. Roz feels her life is wiping the sick off the furniture on a cosmic scale. She wonders what is left of her instinct for law enforcement. A long time ago she swore an oath to stop people getting hurt. Unless she was doing the hurting. In a naked moment she wonders why she bothers staying in the TARDIS, pushed around, throttled, shot at, insulted and stranded. No job satisfaction. Seriously. No roots. When she comes face to face with her old self: ‘I’d forgotten what a complete and utter bitch I was!’ When she finally makes her way back to the TARDIS she is so glad to be home. She pauses. Home?

Puppy Dog Eyes: Oh Chris. Even Miles, who could grab hold of Adric and find lots of interesting things to say (actually I think anybody could do that…except Gary Russell if Divided Loyalties is anything to go by) cannot find anything interesting for Chris to do! The trouble with Chris is you were told everything you were ever going to find out about him in Original Sin. He’s a cuddly mummy’s boy of a copper who plays with spaceships in his room and likes having lots of meaningless sex. I can’t tell you how much I laughed myself silly when he was forced to give birth to Gynoids in this book, finally revenge for all the spawn he has littered about the space/time continuum. I hope it hurt. There really isn’t much to learn about him, the last ten books have shown that so the best you can hope to do is get him involved in the story in some vaguely interesting way. Miles almost achieves that at the climax but then it is revealed he was just a puppet after all. That kind of sums him up well, a puppet. It’s hard to work up any enthusiasm for anyone who is that nice. There was a scene in Rational Planet that I thought summed up his contributions to these novels well, Duquesne is having a seriously deep conversation with Cacophony and in the background Chris is being chased back and forth by robots and Quarks and revolutionaries. Comic relief, but its about as good as he gets.

Chris has the morbid curiosity of a 14 year old. He feels uncomfortable at the thought of aliens in the TARDIS. The idiot starts typing away casually when he plugs in the interface of the TARDIS and removes the outer shell! I wanted to strangle him when he irritatingly filters through all the ‘psy’ words in the dictionary to see if Duquesne has the abilities. Described as the first born child of the world of disorder. ‘Law and Order are in our blood’ – his Dad supposedly told him and he believes it.

Foreboding: Roz’s feelings of home soon come to haunt her in So Vile a Sin. The last scene is a doozy, Cacophony whispering Chris’ ear that he has made the wrong choice, talking of victims and how it is all going to end… Upon looking into the Universe in a Bottle Chris exclaims ‘I wonder what he’s doing in San Francisco.’ Is the Doctor the Eighth Man Bound?

Twists: How many good ideas can be stuffed into one book…lets find out. Gynoids, female androids, not constructed, not man made…they just are. The Catholics, hiding bones of a T-Rex and Sea Devils as they date back before the Earth was created. Roz killing Abraham Lincoln’s father – thick black marker pen over the pages of history saying Roz Forrester was here. An interface that connected Kamelion to the TARDIS. Chris uses it to play about with the architectural configuration, de-rationalising the TARDIS! Cacophony is the force that seeks to plunge the human race into a dark age of superstition. The huge sentience in the heart of the TARDIS is just a small sliver of the Matrix. Catcher is tearing holes in the rational universe, he has been touched by something powerful and irrational. The Directory is an organisation who seek out and control – or exterminate – alien life. The Professor from the Directory talks of the cailliou that pushes people and objects into convenient places, remarkable co-incidences saving him from a deadly fate (hmm who does that sound like?). Raphael – a hunter for the Directory, described as a cloaked smiling man with a scalpel hiding in the shadows. Issac Penley explodes and Catcher, desperately trying to bring Reason to the universe literally puts his body parts back together, replacing missing bits for whatever he has to hand. Sickeningly the completed work comes alive. Marielle Duquesne is the interface between Cacophony and the rational universe. The Carnival Queen is the living embodiment of chaos unleashed into the rational universe. The Watchmakers are one of the first Great Races. They wanted existence to be precise, timetabled, tying creation down to rules. They tore out their imagination, their wonders and their superstitions and chained them in a corner of creation cut off from the rest of the universe (sound like anybody you know?). The curse of the Watchmakers was that they sucked all the glamour and strangeness from the universes bones. Cacophony wants to make an irrational universe, take apart the Watchmakers clockwork. Killing lessons were woven into the Doctor’s DNA, instructions to kill Cacophony. In the scariest moment of all of creation Chris Cwej has to decide whether history existed (the fact that he has to think about proves what a numb-nuts this guy is!). I love the idea of a villain who is bested metaphorically shaking his hand and congratulating him on his win. The TARDIS planted the memory in Chris’ mind, the memory that would convince him to side with the Doctor and save history. It had the most to lose, the Watchmaker’s creation…the Watch.

Funny Bits: Erskine’s reaction to the Masonic ceremony: ‘Hellfire and shite!’
The Doctor explains to Roz that Abraham Lincoln’s father was called Thomas, not Samuel.
‘The Great Beast of Tara is scarier than you are!’
Gallifrey is described as ‘Stagnant. Born into a society were change comes once in every heliotrope moon, each new generation finds itself forced to devise increasingly elaborate rites and ceremonies, in order to disguise the crushing banality of life on a planet cut off from the rest of history.’
All Daleks are made from male genetic material. That explains a lot.

Result: Hugely enjoyable, Lawrence Miles bursts onto the scene with so many fantastic ideas. As a fan of Doctor Who there is so much to enjoy here, it is another reminder of how epic and unlike the TV series the New Adventures can be, continuity is used sharply and with much humour with lots of clever kisses to the past and the regulars all come out of this book more polished than they were before. The seeds are sown for Miles’ future innovations; here he opens our minds to Time Lord History, sentient TARDISes, the universe in a bottle but also includes a number of astonishing ideas that make this novel unique. I would have grown tired of the surreal nature of the narrative but he even managed to make me smile there as the nature of threat is revealed to explain all the oddness at just the right point. His prose is the key, it keeps you hooked even when you haven’t got a clue what is going on and it whips you in the face with its acidic wit and brutally thoughtful observations. I can’t think of a single book in this series that has made me so excited with its potential which bodes extremely well for the Benny NAs and EDAs. This is the book where the TARDIS manages to save the day, trumping the Doctor: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for so eloquently expressing many of my own inchoate feelings about this fantastic (in both senses of the word) book. I especially enjoy your liberal use and reorganization of quotations which both remind me of some of my favourite parts and let the best part of the author speak for himself.