Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Deviant Strain written by Justin Richards

Plot: Answering a distress call at a Soviet Naval Base, the Doctor, rose and Jack are caught up in an adventure that proves that staying young can really be a nightmare…

Northern Adventurer: Considering this is what I consider to be the last ninth Doctor novel (only 6 novels, poor guy) it is a pretty underwhelming last hurrah. There is nothing wrong with his characterisation but it is pretty generic and it would have been nice to have had him driving the story rather than investigating on the sidelines. Oh well c’est la vie Mr Eccleston, welcome Mr Tennant! He grumpily admits he didn’t want to come to Russia, it was forced upon him but he is the best at what he does. The Doctor has seen more death than you can ever imagine and he’s a Doctor of philosophy as well. Its funny how much he enjoys a spot of grave robbing (‘Nothing dubious about! Completely illegal!’). Takes it as guaranteed that everybody likes him. Richards manages to capture that blunt northern confidence the ninth Doctor has in himself and his ability to convince people. Typically, the Doctor has all the answers figured out before they work it out for themselves, the smug get. If you are going to have your life threatened, he says, it might as well be fun! Next time he wants smaller ears (your wish is my command!). I loved his nutty escape plan, tossing bottles of liquor at the creatures and setting the pub ablaze!

Chavvy Chick: On the whole Rose doesn’t really work very well in the books – certainly not as well as Martha and Donna and whilst she gets to do plenty of running about, being chased by lunatics with serrated knives and ducking away from explosions there isn’t anything especially memorable about her characterisation here.

Hot Homo: Jack is flying the TARDIS these days and gets excited at the thought of a damsel in distress. He’s a captain born and bred. He used to think he was scared of facing death but what scares him now is the possibility that he might grow old, be tired and wasted and lose his memories. Oh Jack, if only you knew what was coming you old Boe Head. He is viciously protective of Valeria, which turns out to be quite sweet, saving her life even when her father has abandoned her.

Blaidd Drwg: ‘Its him I fear. The bad wolf.’

Twists: 24 missile have been decommissioned but not removed and their collective strength is that of half a million tons of TNT! You’ve got a great pre titles/prologue with the TARDIS landing atop an icy cliff top and huge military helicopter like a giant spider bearing down on them. The Docklands and the Organic Weapons Research Institute were abandoned at the end of the Cold War. The end of chapter two is very thoughtful, the kind of scenes that turned up in the best of the New Adventures. The location has a lost, melancholic feel to it, dirty dank submarines, rust flaking from the walls, water dripping – it s a fabulous Doctor Who location for monsters to stalk in. Zinoviev narrating Nikolais’ death is really tense and the lights going out is a great touch. They open a coffin to discover a puddle of pale, colourless jelly that used to be a person. The stones take anything that can nourish them, draining all the life energy and leaving an empty skin. Rose gets a great horror movie scene where she is talked through the fog, makes it back to the car and as she scrabbles desperately for the keys Sofia leaps on the bonnet and starts smashing the windscreen with the butt of her torch. Chedakin’s suicide is immediately suspect, how does a man shoot himself in the back of the head? Jack floods the torpedo bay
and swims to freedom, almost dying of hypothermia in the icy depths. The ship crash-landed and set up antennae, the stone circle, to draw energy and when jack answered the distress signal the ship prepared to leave. However someone has manipulated the technology to only draw life from humans and the blobs are remote drones draining energy from people and beaming it back. The ship is too damaged to take off but it doesn’t realise that and its probes will always seek out new energy sources – human beings. The ship reached out to the original whaling community, showing them how to keep themselves young whilst they kept the repairs going and Barinska has been using the life force to stay young ever since. She keeps going in a hail of bullets, he jaw hanging off (ugh!). Chedakin was the traitor all along and Minin shot him to stop him sending back information and just as we learn this about him he sacrifices himself to save the others (egg on your face to those who were mean to him!). A sealed laboratory is discovered, full of scientist husks who adapted the systems to keep them alive. They sacrifice somebody ever now and again to keep themselves fed and Jack saved Valeria’s life by answering the distress call and activating the ship.

Result: Nicely plotted and full of atmosphere, however The Deviant Strain is the book I have had the most trouble trying to read in the opening volley of New Series Adventures. I love how the story cuts to the chase with no padding and dives straight into the action but as a result the superb location and touches of Cold War realism are skipped over in favour of the usual monsters and chasing about. The first half manages to build up a tense and evocative sense of danger so its shame that it turns out to be nothing more than a spaceship that has malfunctioned. As ever with Richards the plotting is ruthlessly tight but there are few moments of charm and even at its reduced word count it outstays its welcome: 5/10

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