Saturday, 6 November 2010

Damaged Goods by Russell T Davies

Plot: Drugs are changing hands, kids are being sold, friendships falling apart, women being tortured by sick children, terrible ancient weapons coming to life and gay sex is being enjoyed. Just another day for the New Adventures.

Master Manipulator: It’s only when you finish the book that you realise just how damn ineffectual the Doctor has been in this adventure. He stands up to the most evil and heinous creature that has ever walked upon the Earth in the climax but doesn’t manage to save a single soul. He’s utterly, utterly useless, not managing to bring a single moment of relief to any of the characters and failing to stop the deaths of over 11,000 people. To save the day he causes the woman trapped inside the Time Lord weapon to murder herself through her own desire for children. It’s just wrong. Whilst this remains one of the best written novels in the Doctor Who range, it is one the worst Doctor Who books because of what it says about our hero. He has lost his touch. Just horrible.

The Doctor had been wonderfully relaxed of late until he realised there was alien cocaine being spread and jumps into action. He has so many bad memories that if he started crying he would never stop. If he has a talent it is getting in the centre of things. The Doctor tries to remind himself that somewhere in the universe the tea is getting cold when things get bad. He can smell a lie a mile off and has a smile you can tumble into. He has never paid his supporting cast much attention. He has joined the ranks of the powerless and ignorant and he hated it. Sometimes he wished he could be blind, deaf and dumb, free of his talent because of the world of weeping he did understand.

Stroppy Copper: A waste, again. A few moments, but nothing special. Russell T Davies reserves all the good stuff for his original characters. The Roz of old sounded like Chris’ mother, she was glad to see her Squire having fun. Ironically she sees herself as an old woman, still a pawn of the Doctor’s machinations. Little does she know. There is a powerful honesty between the Doctor and Roz. She accepted the Doctor as their leader and had a hard logical core. She has violence in her eyes.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Poor old Chris, they’ve tried to make him a fluffy bunny (literally in his first book!), a Buddhist monk, a sex stud…and now a burgeoning gay guy in a desperate bid for him to find some sort of character. But he just isn’t interesting enough to work in any of these (wildly different) guises. Russell T Davies writes him here with far more street cred than we have seen before and with many delicious descriptions of his tight arse and exploding pecs but no matter how much David Daniels wants to get into knickers and how much Chris peels off his clothes on a street corner and lets him, he’s still the most vacuous and dull companion we have ever suffered. There’s just nothing underneath that muscle and speaking as a married gay man who’s met more than his fair share of Chris Cwej’s, he’s really not worth wasting your time with.

Foreboding: ‘Years gone by have been creeping into my head of late. It might be a sign of change to come. An assessment before the end.’ The signal to active the N Form has come from the future, which leads into So Vile a Sin.

Twists: Here’s my chance to say some very nice things about Damaged Goods because it is the supporting cast that make this one of the most memorable books readers are likely to read. The Capper setting himself on fire is a good hook into the story. Harry’s introduction is so painfully real, a married gay man who wife is best friends with a younger, more attractive gay guy. He cruises at night, desperate for male contact but ashamed and disgusted with himself. When he is stabbed by the bit of skirt he is trying to pull he thinks only of shame. The knife wound is described as a two inch flap between his breasts, a ragged misplaced mouth. In a few paragraphs Davies explores the pain of not travelling with the Doctor, as we see the entire life of Rita the waitress, dying of an overdose rather than exploring the universe. Everybody sees something different in Gabriel Tyler and everybody paid their respects to him, seeking reassurance in their mirror image. The story of Mrs Jericho’s shopping trips (snip snip snip) is utterly chilling. ‘Taste it and you’ll taste heaven…’ The Capper wants everybody, teachers, pupils, bankers to try his cocaine.
Harry confronting David (‘You’re filth. Queer filth’) is haunting because you just don’t know what he is capable of. The story of Sylvie’s death as she hunted for an inhaler as she had an asthma attack, Harry waiting outside, is horrible but riveting. The Doctor did not notice that the universe had gotten darker until it was too late. Tribophysics is the means of slipping between dimensions. The shocking twist that Winnie Tyler had twins and sold one of them for 30k is what powers the second half of the book. Gabriel has been drawing a noughts and crosses grid because his brother has been staring at a hospital ceiling for years. Like an isotope, Mrs Jericho has being sapping psi energies from her son. Pages 169-174 are the stories of Winnie and Eva, two women who have never met but their lives are so entwined. Winnie accepted the cash for Steven and lost her life as a result, Eva had phantom pains until the child she had bought was in her arms. Winnie paid of her debts but refused to spend any of the blood money on the rest of her children. Nobody told Eva she was buying one of a set of twins and now there is a perfectly good replacement on the rack and she was going shopping. How scary. In a scene that chilled my blood, Eva Jericho stabs Thomas three times and watches her husband die of food poison spasms…and you realise that she had also stuck the rat poison in her mashed potato but her madness had gripped her now and she was no longer willing to sacrifice herself. The Capper looming over his employees and cutting them to ribbons with his cheese wire tentacles is really nasty. His sinking into the sewers would make a striking visual. There is a piece of N Form in every gram of coke; it licks at the mind, creating an engram waiting to release half a ton of metal into the skull. These are dimensional vents through which the N Form can enter the physical world, better to use lots of small doors rather than one gaping hole. If the N Form decides the human race has a Vampire inheritance it will destroy the world and Gabriel and Steven’s link is similar to the Wasting. Although Rassilon forbade it, the N Forms were released and Vampire worlds died in seconds. The war is over and this surviving N Form is part of the debris, damaged, deranged machine robbed of its mind, clinging to a human corpse in desperation. Mrs Jericho calmly telling Winnie that she is an unfit mother and that she has come to swap sons is remarkably intense. Gabriel touches his brother and Steven dies.
The N Form becomes a mechanical daddy long legs clambering over the Baxter Estate and sprouting new appendages. 11,000 people die an awful death, tiny mouths in their brains vomiting metal into their skulls. Winnie had recently forced her son to take the coke he was hiding from her at home and as a result they both die. Mrs Jericho holds Gabriel and the N Form consumes them and she feels the people becoming dimensional breaches blossoming, as though she is having thousands of children. The shocking, disgusting, unforgettable ending sees Eva’s lithopaedian, the child lodged inside her (the Voice that has been speaking to her, enhanced by Steven’s psi powers) grow and burst from her body. The N Form is denied a host and pops out of our dimension.

Funny Bits: ‘Wicked?’ snorted Carl. ‘Where’ve you been grandad? No one says wicked anymore.’ ‘Really?’ said the Doctor, crestfallen. ‘In 1987? I could have sworn they did.’

Result as a novel: Russell T Davies explodes onto the scene with a book so breathlessly memorable and shocking it knocked me back to attention after my allergic reaction to the last two books. Graphic, and fuelled by a mixture of strong science fiction ideas and brutal, painful human drama, Damaged Goods will open your mind to some ugly imagery and stomach churning moments. Cracker style psychodrama and bloodthirsty homicide combine to create an unforgettable novel, featuring some really fantastic prose. Eva Jericho is the most frightening human monster the Doctor has ever encountered: 10/10

Result as a Doctor Who book: A book where the main characters are murderers, drug dealers, child sellers, cottagers and where it is hard to muster up any enthusiasm for the depressing lot of them. This isn’t a Doctor Who book; it wants to crowbar the most accomplished and imaginative science fiction series into a world of suicide, petrol bombs, teen angst, cocaine, mass murder and loveless sex, an unthinkable atrocity. This is a series where the Doctor has employees and he sends them off to explore to find him drugs, a world where he fails to make any impact on the terrible pain around him, where he murders a woman’s hopes to save the day. Thatcher’s Britain is revealed in all its ugly glory and the series rots and festers in its grip: 0/10

Overall: 5/10

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