Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Crooked World by Steve Lyons


Plot: Everybody is happy in The Crooked World. Cats chase mice, pigs chase Watchamacallits, teen rock bands uncover fake ghosts and little Scrapper wants to biff everybody. But a malign influence is about to invade their idyllic existence…the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are about to arrive and when they do…that’s all folks!

Top Doc: Another book which recognises the seriousness of the Doctor’s missing heart, when he is shot by Streaky Bacon he overestimates his powers of recuperation and has to survive the wound with just the one pumping away. A dashing romantic with a childlike wonder he may be, but it is a far more contemplative Time Lord we are treated to here, sometimes Fitz looks into his eyes and can see every moment of experience, every piece of wisdom learnt and every fragile mortal friend he had ever loved. He thinks free will is a good thing, whether it brings pain or joy and it is marvellous to see how shocking his visit to a planet can be. He takes full responsibility for bringing ideas to The Crooked World and insists on sticking around to watch the inhabitants mature, not wishing to guide them, just help them to ask more questions. He exists to stop people who wish to use free will to cause harm. Described as canny and the sort of man who thinks like a villain. He doesn’t believe in a honourable villain. He twists nature around him; unravelling strands of reality and knitting them back together in his wake. Clearly a powerful force, his turn as Jasper’s attorney is one of the best ever eighth Doctor sequences, making people see that their desires can be exciting and dangerous. Tellingly, when he considers The Crooked World’s people ’grown up’ he tells Anji, “It’s time” and they leave.

Scruffy Git: Ugly and meaning looking? The big screen hero who has escaped his cold, grey world. Described as very interested in making babies but in turn absolutely horrified when the Baby Stork tries to deliver one to him, suggesting fatherhood would not agree with his lifestyle! He realises that pain is the price of being a hero. The two primary aspects of Fitz’s personality, his libido and his love of James Bond crop up here and rather than feeling like clich├ęs they are re-invented brilliantly. His relationship with Angel Falls is very sweet as he tries to bed this virginal (in all ways) woman and his hints to the conglomerate of villains leads to them building a genuine underground volcano complex complete with a big rocket and laser gun!

Career Nazi: Completing another terrific spin on the three regulars is Anji, who once again provides some excellent moments. She likes to take pride in her appearance and describes herself as a caring professional. She has learnt to never judge by appearances but is horrified to find more talking dogs in the universe! Anji is rational even in the most trying of circumstances and sometimes, annoyingly, just cannot think quickly enough. Every time she has a hand on the universe something weirder comes along to prove her wrong (mind you, take a look at some of these books…The Slow Empire, Mad Dogs, The Book of the Still, The Crooked World…she has a point!). He reaction to The Crooked World is one of sheer horror, not being able to get her head around a society that creates money with no purpose and can change its physics at the drop of a hat, refusing to believe a world as silly as this could evolve naturally. Frustrated because her intellect and instincts are useless in a world this crooked. She likes the idea of moulding a civilisation along efficient, compassionate lines. She is Hindu but not very religious and doesn’t want proof of death because it would uproot her worldview. Her scenes with the Skeleton Crew are hilarious; as she points out the various illogical acts they perform…Steve Lyons manages to use her very serious personality to great comic effect.

Twists: The much criticized cover is glorious, another sign of the confidence of the range these days. The marvellous first chapter effortlessly introduces us to the wackiness of The Crooked World before bringing everything crashing down as Str
eaky shoots the Doctor. Anji has marvellous fun with the Watchamacallit, slipping on a banana skin, dodging a grand piano and holding tight as the TARDIS (with her inside) is shoved over a cliff! I loved it when the newsreader spoke directly to Fitz, telling him, “How very rude!” when he tried to turn it off! When Anji attempts to shade her eyes the Sun politely moves out of her way. Much of the joy of the book is experiencing the characters coming of age, discovering concepts such as death, sex, logic and free will. It is described as discovering a shocking truth, emotions waking up inside, a disease eating away at the fabric of society. Anji realises with some horror that it is their presence, which has instigating events and later Angel Falls demands, “Why couldn’t you have left us alone?” Streaky Bacon attempts to commit suicide when he cannot come to terms with killing the Doctor but tragically just ends up getting frazzled. Angel Falls realises, whilst strapped to a table with a buzz saw working its way up between her legs, how predictable her life has become. The villains team together and kidnap Fitz, torturing him via the dreaded feather duster! In a shocking sequence Jasper kills Squeak the mouse, realising with numb horror that his foe is never coming back because he has killed him in a way nobody has conceived before. Subverting expectations again, the supremely annoying Scrapper is killed in another moment of mute tragedy. The trial of Jasper is a phenomenal scene, the Doctor pointing out the illogical cycle of abuse that Jasper was being tortured with and proving, thanks to their new found desires, it could have been any one of them on trial. When Angel Falls catches up with her old guardian and one time foe she punches him in the face! The explanation of how The Crooked World exists is beautiful, a little girl crash landing on a planet of malleable reality and her desire and dreams starting to affect the formless people. The stories conclusion sees real character growth, Angel and Weasley getting married, Boss Dog a farmer, Streaky Bacon sheriff and Jasper delighted to be reunited with his ‘dead’ chum Squeak. The Doctor admits, “We gave them ambition but took away their innocence.”

Funny bits: The twitters, birds who fly around your head, attracted to pain. The Doctor gets picked up by an ambulance that says “Nee-naw, nee-naw!” Fits tries to come on to a cartoon character only to discover that she has no ‘equipment’, much to Anji’s amusement. “If you start to get these unnatural urges…go and have a nice lie down or something!” says Boss Dog about the mysterious plague of questions. Due to the increasing number of ideas, the light bulb supplies have been exhausted. Fitz is tortured, “The sooner you talk, the less it will tickle!” The Doctor starts using the crazy physics of The Crooked World against its villains, creating the custard pie gun which leads to the glorious line, “Unless you fancy a face full of dairy products, I think I will!” The Skeleton Crew discover their instruments in the frantic chase sequence because; “We always play the music in the chase scenes!” A beef burger vendor tells some protesting cows, “If you don’t want to be eaten you shouldn’t go around tasting so gorgeous all the time!” Boss Dog attempts to play God but gets caught out and curses the Skeleton Crew…”and I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t have been for you…total bastards!”

Embarrassing bits: Bit of an oversight, Anji was comparing Rhian to Velma in the last book and then comes face to face with the real thing here but doesn’t even think that a bit odd.

Result: The last time I reviewed a Steve Lyons book in the mighty eighth Doctor marathon I considered the worst Doctor Who book I had ever read so how odd that his next entry should be such an amazing piece of writing. Its one of the all time classic Doctor Who books, such a fantastic idea and pulled off with such incredible style. The writing is extremely adult without ever being patronising but still manages to thrill the child in you, with loads of laugh out loud hilarious scenes. The regulars are vital to the plot and each contribute much to the story and characterised (once again) with supreme confidence and the secondary characters all transcend their stereotypes to become living, breathing people who it is impossible not to fall in love with (even the villains). It shares some themes with the film Pleasantville and is just as touching and magical, coming of age never seemed so frightening and delightful. I am extremely pleased with the imagination and humour the range is displaying at the moment, this is another little masterpiece in a consistently excellent run of books: 10/10

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