Sunday, 29 May 2011

Reckless Engineering by Nick Walters

Plot: What on Earth caused everybody to age 40 years in a few seconds in 1843? Materialising in Bristol in the new calendar year of 151, the Doctor and friends must traversed the barren wilderness, savaged by cannibalistic children, to uncover the truth behind another fractured reality…

Top Doc: Walters manages to recapture that thrilling dangerousness we haven’t seen in the eighth Doctor for a while, probably because we have had Sabbath to take on that role for some time. He has an aura of danger about him, representing a threat to this reality. Nobody seems to trust him much any more and is it a surprise when he seems to be making things up as he goes alone, sacrificing anyone in order to re-instate ‘our’ reality and stop the destruction of the Vortex. He burns with curiosity and describes his work of rescuing maids as thirsty work! As well as regaining his second heart, the Doctor has regained his homing instincts for the TARDIS. He acts like the weight of the multiverse is resting on his shoulders alone, much to Fitz’s annoyance. The row between him and Fitz is excellent, far better than a similar one with him and Anji in The Domino Effect, because we get to see how responsible he feels to sort things out and just how far he is willing to go and contrasted against Fitz’s natural good nature it is very dramatic and shocking. The Doctor and Brunel make an engaging pair too, I loved it when Brunel demanded to be told how the TARDIS worked and the Doctor shrugged and said, “I don’t know, it just does.” He cold bloodedly hooks up Gotllieb to the TARDIS and holds him down whilst he dies in writhing agony, just to get the TARDIS back to the right place. It is a real slap in the face after the Doctor has been so woefully characterised for the last two books, he may not be completely likable, but by God he is distinctive. He knows he has no right to play God and wipe out whole realities but he has a responsibility.

Scruffy Git: Another great book for Fitz because through him we get to see the potential and drama of the alternative universe idea being played out. This makes all the difference to the first two books in this arc because we finally give a toss about what will happen to this reality, because Fitz does too. He jokes he is getting a taste for torture. He is described as the Doctor’s younger, scruffier, shiftier brother. He likes to sit near exits, all part of his ‘leg it’ policy. He has a dream about Anji and the book hints on more than one occasion that he might be developing feelings for her. He feels they are so close now it could be months and not decades which separates their times back on their Earth. He voices, “What if this is the right reality and we are from the wrong one?” He cannot stand men who bully women. He gets cross because the Doctor thinks he cannot think for himself. Exposing how insidious the multiverse has become, it tries to incorporate Fitz into this version of reality. It is heartbreaking to his history getting re-written and Fitz struggle with his identity. One breathtaking scene sees Fitz sitting on his bed in the TARDIS fighting his Totterdown memories, crying out “This is my home!” At the stories close he feels the Doctor has wiped out his home and cannot trust him anymore.

Career Nazi: Beautiful, intelligent and refined, this is the best depiction of Anji since Time Zero, almost as if the nasty brute of the last two books has been erased from memory. Anji dislikes the salt of the Earth atmosphere of the Totterdown settlement, preferring somewhere altogether more civilised. This reality is so quiet, she longs for the noise of the City. She sees some pretty horrific sights here and proves herself perfectly capable of saving herself when the Wildren attack. She realises with some horror that they are expendable, that the Doctor would go to any lengths to restore reality.

Foreboding: Finally we have concrete proof that Trix is on board the TARDIS, fixing up a sandwich for Malahyde here. When will she come out in the open and reveal herself?

Twists: Most brilliant of all, Sabbath is not behind anything! In face, he doesn’t appear at all! The opening scenes are the best since Time Zero with a great depiction of the Bristol Riots and the Cleansing absolutely horrifying through Emily’s childlike eyes. Chapter One is a masterclass of suspense. The twist that Aboetta has been gone from the settlement for ten years when for her it has only been four months is a good shock. Aboetta and Robin’s relationship is beautifully real, she returns home to find him a different man, surrenders to nostalgia and lust and wakes up after the sweaty part to realise she doesn’t love him at all. In 1843, 40 years passed in a matter of seconds ageing 95% of the population to death. The dream of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji stamping out realities is fab. Chapter Ten is probably my favourite in the whole novel; the Wildren attack through Anji’s eyes is mind numbingly frightening (and graphic…one desperate child gets his brains bashed open in front of her!) and the cliff-hanger (where she is presented with a feast of…human torso and her stomach growls) is unforgettable. The image of the Doctor and Fitz standing back-to-back smashing the skulls of the advancing, ravenous Wildren will disturb me forever. Malahyde’s story clears up a lot of unanswered questions…he was possessed by an alien who claimed to be super evolved humans and told he had to build the Utopian engine in order for their future timeline to take place. When in fact it was to cause the Cleansing, filter the energy of the time acceleration to their dying universe and use the Earth as a great battery whilst systematically wiping it out. Anji is apparently sucked into the Vortex to her death, a dramatic conceit although instead she is later revealed to have been sucked to the Eternines dimension instead. The Vortex is sick, deformed, dying…unable to cope with these multiple realities. The TARDIS and Fitz both show signs of being drawn into this realities timeline…desperate to ensure its survival. Cleverly, the narrative dovetails into the prologue, the Doctor stumbling across Emily and strengthening his resolve to stop the Cleansing. There is a wealth of temporal madness as the Doctor starts making things up as he goes along; Brunel from the future (that wont exist) and Malahyde from the past (which he is trying to prevent) all trapped in another dimension! The Cleansing was supposed to roll on forever, the reason it only lasted fourty years was because the Doctor goes back in time and chucks Malahyde/Watchlar into the machine. This caused Watchlar to detached and caused the time barrier around the house. Watchlar emerges when the Doctor hooks up the TARDIS to the Utopian Engine…and he tries to start the Cleansing up all over again!

Embarrassing bits: Really, Anji is leaving in two books time and they’ve managed to resist the NA idea of companions shagging in the TARDIS up until now…so why suggest anything between Fitz and Anji now? At least it all appears one sided (randy sod). Gottlieb turning on the Utopian Engine is a very unconvincing plot device. The last twenty pages just about work thanks to Walters juggling so much plot comprehensively but a tired reader will be left behind with so many characters and incidents to keep track of. I still have absolutely no idea how the Doctor saves the day; he sort flicks a switch, which for all intents and purposes is labelled RESET BUTTON. He obviously borrowed it from the Starship Voyager.

Result: A massive improvement on the last two books, this is a deftly written piece that takes the alternative reality idea by the horns and shakes so hard lots of interesting ideas and dilemmas pop out. The setting is amazing, a cruel and stark post apocalyptic Bristol lovingly described by Nick Walters in some atmospheric passages. The first half is a strong character piece with some terrifying set pieces and the second, whilst not quite as gripping, is a fascinating trip into temporal madness. The regulars really get put through the wringer here and it is nice to see Fitz given some healthy development, although the dangerous Doctor is a great improvement on the last two books too. The only really annoying aspect is the ending, which is inexplicable and insultingly easy. Despite this, I will still champion this book for its strong prose, excellent dialogue and cleverly crafted plot. This is the book which should have come directly after Time Zero: 8/10

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Art of Destruction by Stephen Cole

Plot: In the shadows of a dormant volcano lies long hidden art treasures that two races are willing to fight over…

Mockney Dude: There is very little that makes this book a Doctor Who book because the regulars are literally as peripheral as the guest cast – this story could happily play out with any other characters than the Doctor and Rose and that is never a good sign. If you aren’t going to use the situation to explore these characters I think you need to rethink the situation. The Doctor says he is not an aid worker, a journo or an activist. He is embarrassingly enthused at hearing people have been eaten and later is said to collapse in a bony heap. He is appalled that Faltato is willing to provoke widespread slaughter for a mere one percent of the art haul! His special method is to shut up, think positive and get working. ‘Coming Rose’ he says as he surrenders to the molten material and it tempts him into sacrificing himself because she has appeared to have died. He has turned travelling hopefully into an art form.

Chavvy Chick: A much less interesting book for Rose than Cole’s last effort. It struck me as astonishing that she was heavily involved in the action throughout but is constantly reacting to the dangers that we never get any chance to get inside her head or learn anything new about her. She’s just there. Compare and contrast with the delightful work Jac Rayner does with the character, constantly innovating and amusing, and it really pales in comparison. She loves coloured men – an odd observation! She feels a familiar tingle of disbelief at being in the future and realises that some things like poverty will always stay the same. ‘Get off me you muppet!’ she cries at one point, the one example of chav speak.

Twists: A glowing, devouring metal is alive beneath the volcano. They are an agricultural unit farming inside the volcano, sucking the land dry to pay for debt that Africa can never pay off and renting out its land to Europe and America so they can feed their people whilst they go on starving. The one problem with the fungus they are trying to cultivate is that it is poisonous! The molten substance is defensive and turning animals into sentries and a flock of molten bats attacks Rose in what would be an impressive set piece had we seen it on screen. These golems are unthinking servants, creating by alien technology rather than spells. Faltato is described as being spiked like a cactus with a neck that pulsates like a toad, two spindly arms with pincers and many legs that clack together – what an image! He comes from a world of art and class and takes real umbrage to have a ‘skanky pit’ considered its lair! A treasure store of alien art, pictures and sculptures, is being stored beneath the volcano. Faltato has many tongues, one for talking, one for eating and one for flossing! The Valnaxi are an avian race of gifted artists who are connected with their own planet. Brilliantly, mouths open in the base of the Wurm spaceship and vomits a foul smelling muck to cushion its landing and buries the TARDIS. They carry mud guns which spit out gloopy earth with living, devouring things wriggling inside that strip off your skin. Africa has become the final battleground between the Wurms and the Valnaxi and there is a grippingly violent battle between the giant earthworms and the golems as soon as they land. If you attempt to escape the Wurms they will eat you alive – ugh! Whilst the Valnaxi have devoted their life to art the Wurms have devoted their time to destroying it. The Valnaxi wanted to return to their homeworld and walk amongst their enemies in their form. The alien mud turns out to grow anything in it and will revolutionise farming and they file a claim in the name of the African people. People the world over will want to purchase this miracle mud and they can pay for it, pulling Africa out of poverty.

Embarrassing Bits: ‘Some Star Trek style tricorder gadget in her hand’ – since when has this sort of lazy description ever been acceptable in Doctor Who novels? The Doctor grates on your nerves at times by suggesting he is ‘really, really, really, really, reeeeaaaallllyyyy old.’ Cole describes a hole as the size of a ‘chubby Labrador’ – huh? He also suggests that the Wurm make a hissing, straining noise much like ‘an elephant on the loo’ – I have read many Stephen Cole books before but this level of amateurish description was never evident – what the hell is going on? Was this book written in a hurry? Oddly the story seems to be entirely plot driven with only the barest levels of characterisation to add very little depth. In the last third of the novel Cole gets lost in his own insane plotting and there is lots of running away from earthworms and golems and very little plot development. Fynn’s death might have been affecting had we known anything about him in the slightest. Aside from a tiny rant at the very beginning of the book and a miracle cure for poverty at the end of it there is absolutely no reason for this book to be set in Africa – there is so much room for some fascinating ecological and socio-political drama (which is not beyond Doctor Who as both were very much evident in the Pertwee years) that this book ached of wasted potential. The conclusion is very messy and confusing, seeming to suggest that the underdeveloped Valnaxi wanted to both trap the Wurms and take on their image but rather than explore this in any detail it is simply more rushing about. There is a moment when the book seems to suggest that Rose is dead but this is a huge problem with the NSAs that they can never get away with this sort of shock tension because we know the books are slaves to the developments of the TV series.

Funny Bits: Thank God for Faltato and his cohorts the Wurms because they turn up and add some much needed spice to the novel. ‘I live my life surrounded by art treasures so unutterably beautiful that your puny eyes would implode at the mere sight of them and you assume my natural habitat to be a rancid rock hole like this? I was never so insulted! And by a biped!’ cries the middleman! The Wurms are great fun, I especially loved their ‘if you attempt to escape to interfere you will be killed, ingested and excreted!’

Result: Cole’s books continue to be the weakest of the range and The Art of Destruction feels even more hastily written than The Feast of the Drowned. It has an exotic location that adds nothing to story, barely sketched characters that make no impact and a confused and unengaging plot that seems to contain of little more than running around a volcano! Fortunately there are some imaginative aliens that turn up in the middle sections of the book that turn up to kick the crap out of everybody in some exciting scenes and Faltato the indescribably odd looking middleman provides some good laughs. The writing is no where near Cole at his best (go and read Ten Little Aliens for that) with some truly strange descriptions and the Doctor and Rose might as well have not turned up at all since they barely show any personality whatsoever. A poor book with a few redeeming features: 4/10

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Loving the Alien by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry

Plot: Take Ace's death, giant ants, missing pilots, cybernetic apes, an old enemy, a parallel universe and some New Adventures style angst and whip it all up with an explanation for Ace's shifting name and serve out in four brilliant, twisted, flawed and terrible episodes in print...

Master Manipulator: The seventh Doctor has the potential to be the deepest print Doctor. He was the first to feature in full length novels and thus was the first to be explored in such a rigorous fashion. Robert Perry and Mike Tucker clearly adore him (although their treatment of Ace is another matter entirely) and whilst I don't entirely agree with how he is portrayed here he is at least given a clear mission, a friend to protect and lives to save. For once the master manipulator is making things up as they go along and somebody equally cunning has a plan of audaciousness that even the seventh Doctor wouldn't dream of...

When the Doctor is concerned, the TARDIS can sense it. He had landed on Heritage with too much knowledge as usual and even he was shocked at what they found - Mel dead. His concern for his friend has led him to exhume Ace's corpse and perform an autopsy on her. The Doctor thinks it is selfish of him that he never gives the full story and thus puts his friends in danger. His expertise with mazes are an example of his misspent youth. The Doctor seems smaller after Ace's death, shrunken by his loss. For once the Doctor is too tired, too angry with himself to avenge his friend - it takes Cody to remind him he has a duty to his friends - sod the timelines. Staring at death, the Doctor admits, "I've destroyed planets."

Oh Wicked: This is the book that deals with Ace's death, long after it was revealed to us back in Prime Time. Its typical of the PDA/EDA(s) to leave such important plot points far too long (the Doctor's amnesia/Fitz's amnesia were both left for far too long too) but points for not just forgetting it as an embarrassing shock twists. Even more points for using a companions death (along with Harry in Wolfsbane, Mel in Heritage and Sarah in Bullet Time) in such an imaginative way (the Council of Eight snipping the Doctor's companions in the innovative EDA Sometime Never...). PDAs being used not only as books in their own right but entire books being utilised as plot points in a much larger scheme in another Doctor Who range. Who ever knew the death of Ace could be so damn audacious?

Ace actually feels independent of the Doctor - usually she was either running alongside him or searching for him. Here she gets to have some fun, romance, sex and the possibility of a life after the Doctor suddenly becomes less frightening. Safety wasn't in great supply with the Doctor and Ace loved that but running on pure adrenalin for years - sometimes she didn't notice how tiring that was. It was inevitable that she would fall in love one day. Ace's death, a bullet in the head during a mundane moment, is so casual it makes it more of a shock.

Twists: A rocket crashes to Earth but with the wrong pilot at the helm...or rather a very different pilot to who went up. The TARDIS is described as a dull blue brick, spinning as if thrown into the vortex. Giant ants start attacking members of the public. Although you would have to think back a fair while to remember Cody McBride and Mullen, as the Doctor says it is nice to catch up with old friends. There is a typically bust McCoy cliffhanger at the end of 'part' one: a race against time to save Ace from death, an unexploded German bomb AND giant ants...they sure pack it in! Mullen, terrified of cybernetic legs after his experience with the Cybermen is a lovely touch. Kneale's rocket was sucked into a trans-dimensional rift and vaporised and O'Brien's rocket came through the other side. After Illegal Alien the Cybermen were discovered and the Augmentation project began. Drakefell sneaked an important Cyber device into the rocket Wavefinder which is why he sabotaged it to blow up. Tatoo's, toffee apples, sex...Ace's death is beautifully set up. A dimensional stabiliser was used to bore a hole in the fabric of reality so the rocket from another dimension could come to ours. Now there are holes in the fabric of space/time, universes bleeding into each other and giant ants crawling through. The Augmentation Project was based at London Zoo for a while and discovering their secret McBride is locked away with their experiments, apes altered with machinery replacing limbs and organs and hooked to the electric ceiling like dodgems. Supersoldiers attack the downed Wavefinder rocket meaning to destroy it and the Doctor is ejected in an escape pod as it explodes, lighting up the English countryside. The cottage is the bridge, the dimensional walls are thin there and at the spot that corresponds to this in the other reality is an ants nest. Ace's death is revealed as nothing more than George Limb's way of smoking out the Doctor. Limb has done terrible things to time and then gone back and undone them - he even saw his own death. In a truly audacious twist (that I adore) cybertised British troops from another dimension are the ones that were smashing down the walls of reality so they can invade our dimension. Basically because of the augmentation process people are born but nobody dies so they are invading other dimensions to create more of their own kind. George Limb is the prime minister of this dimension. (And if you read this carefully there is much here that is very similar to the NSA The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords with the Master (Limb) opening a tear in reality and allowing the Toclafane through (the Cybertised Welsh Guard) to rain down over London and cause devastation! Ironically both invasions are via impossible means (paradox machine/dimensional rift) and the aggressors are alternative versions of the people they are attacking (future/other dimension). Bizarre isn't it? The Doctor convincing Crawhammer to put his gun down on page 219 is a wonderful moment. Rita at the augmentation clinic in the other dimension is frightening. The gorrilla ripping off the Prime Ministers head is gruesome! In a fantastic moment Limb attempts to take control of the other reality and discovers, upon shooting himself, his doppelganger is mechanical. Ace was pregnant with Jimmy's child when she was killed. The Doctor gives Limb a revolver to kill himself, the only way he can escape his eventual augmentation. The Cyber-British retreat but Crawhammer has sent his nuclear missiles through the rift. The fate of this other dimension is left unknown...

Funny Bits: The Doctor and Ace were hidden on the moon as Neil Armstrong took his first steps, the Doctor whistling like a clanger. Given what Martha says about watching the moon landing in the New series I have this rather wonderful of image of all of the Doctor’s watching Armstrong from differing strategic positions on the moon. You can decide which companions travelled with each incarnation.
As they take a tour of London Ace spots loads of police boxes, as though lots of Doctor's have all arrived to gang up on an alien menace.
"There's a perfectly simple explanation. We were searching for a friend, then a breach opened in the walls of reality and swarm of giant ants came through."
When George Limb discovers the invaders are led by none other than himself: "At least I was outwitted by someone whose intellect I respect!"

Embarrassing Bits: Colonel Kneale...are we still doing Quatermass jokes?
Crawhammer is an embarrassing stereotype for the most part - were Generals really that bullish?
Jimmy is the actor James Dean? Why? Why? Why?
Ace's death is given such importance in the first half and then practically forgotten in the second half.
The Doctor uses the Cyber-primates as weapons! To buy them some time he hooks them up to car batteries and sends them out to slaughter people!
Is it a co-incidence that this book takes place at the same time as the EDA alternative universe arc (or The Lingering Death of a Series as it is known to some people who aren't me) and Limb is accompanied by enhanced apes just as Sabbath was? Or was this hasty re-writes from a book that was originally in the EDA arc?
The biggest problem with Loving the Alien is there is simply too much going on - too much plot, too many ideas, too much angst, too much drama. The quieter moments are kept to an absolute minimum so we can get to the next shock moment. It never lets up and for a while becomes almost unbearably (or should I say Quantum Archangelly) complicated.

Result: A bit of a dog's dinner but with so much here that is very good it is frustrating that should all get so confusing. Lets look at the good stuff: Ace's forewarned but still shocking death, the chilling CyberApes, the return of McBride, Mullen and Limb (all three working better here than they did in their debut), the shockingly good twist of who is invading our dimension and another excellent cover. What goes wrong is how the authors try and pull all this together. They can't. Its such a disparate set of ideas (especially when you add giant ants, missing rockets, James Dean and augmentation clinics to the mix) that they have to go through so many hoops (and worse, rely on the most implausible of co-incidences) to fit it all in one book. I always admire ambition and so many of these ideas are clever and worth exploring but not all at once. For once there is even a clear demonstration of Tucker and Perry's different writing styles, one being text heavy and the other focussing on dialogue. Loving the Alien is brilliant, twisted, imaginative but its also overstuffed, embarrassing and amateurish...I enjoyed reading it because it opened my mind to some great concepts but I can't say it wasn't a chore in places. Uneven: 5/10

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Domino Effect by David Bishop

Plot: Within hours of landing in Edinburgh one of the Doctor’s friends is caught in a deadly explosion and another is on the television confessing to the murder of twelve people. The Doctor himself is suffering crippling heart pains and his TARDIS has been stolen. Can anything ever be the same again for our heroic trio…?

Top Doc: Probably the blandest rendition of the Doctor since Stephen Cole was editing the books. There are plenty of descriptions of the Doctor from the POV of other people but he rarely does anything in this book except collapse and get into melodramatic confrontations. He has the ability to turn up at the right place and time. He admits he will miss Anji when she goes, although quite viciously (and out of character) reminds her of her betrayal of him on Hope. He admits he and Alan Turing were more than friends and is upset because changing history will condemn him to his ‘real’ history, committing suicide, an unhappy man. He warns Anji to never tell him what to do and that he has done things that she couldn’t even imagine. He tries to do good but sometimes its just the lesser of two evils. He has considered returning into his own past to discover the cause of his amnesia. He has become cold, paralysed and distant…he sometimes wishes he didn’t care, as it would make things a whole lot easier. An anachronism, a leftover from a previous reality. Is the Doctor’s past trauma coming back to haunt him like a cancer? Very tactile but not romantically inclined.

Scruffy Git: Fitz gets the best characterisation here, suffering so much indignity at the hands of the Service but still managing to hold his head up high. He can crumple an clothing just by looking at it. Described by the Doctor as loyal, friendly, trustworthy and quite courageous but not in the way he thinks. Thinks of himself as a ladies man. His TV broadcast admitting he is a terrorist is heartbreaking; admitting to terrible crimes because he thinks Anji is in danger. Growing up during World War II with a German name taught Fitz to hide his origins. He only remembers his mum in nightmares now. I adored the bit where he realises that the Doctor and Anji are coming to rescue him and he laughs in the face of his torturer, nothing he can do or say makes a difference because his friends are coming for him and nothing can stop them. His faith in them is wonderful.

Career Nazi: Anji suffers from claustrophobia, leading back to a visit to a sensory deprivation tank with Dave. She refuses to stop remembering her former lover as that would feel like denying their time together. To Anji, not asking for help when you need it is a sign of stupidity. Sexism is more of a problem for her than racism but she wont apologise for the colour of her skin and the blatant racism of this universe is like a slap in the face for her, for once she is unique amongst many. She and the Doctor are a formidable pair (apparently). What makes me cross about Anji’s treatment here is that she is far too stroppy and shouty without a good reason, she has been in much worse situations than this and yet she wonders around the book screaming at everyone and making everything ten times worse. Like the book itself, her characterisation has no subtlety at all. An argument springs up in the last third which made me so angry, because rather than springing from natural characterisation Anji simply decides the Doctor can no longer be trusted and that he doesn’t give a toss about her or Fitz. She hasn’t been this harsh without reason since her first few books.

Identity Tricks: Trix turns up here briefly, a striking woman with amazing red hair. She tells Fitz to **ck off and then robs a jewellers. As this is never explained (or even explained that it is Trix) it is a bizarre addition to the book. Guess it’s just to let those avid fans of us that she has sneaked aboard the TARDIS!

Twists: Anji is buried alive by the explosions in the tearooms. Fitz in custody explaining what happened leading up to the terrorist attack is an excellent narrative device. Anji’s adventures in the train station are shockingly unsubtle but the racism she encounters is still remarkably disturbing. Society is being suppressed; history has been altered to hold back scientific advancement. There are some lovely interludes breaking up the main action, trips back into history as important knowledge holders are wiped out to stop their scientific ideas making an impact on the timeline. Alan Turing is revealed to have been arrested for sexual deviancy and his universal machine idea was suppressed, as a result there were no computers/planes/internet, etc and the Earth of 2003 is trapped in the past. Fitz’s numerous beatings are horribly voyeuristic. It is obvious that Dee and the Pentarch are supposed to be alternate versions of Ace and the Brigadier, which helps to visualise them well. The police shooting down the demonstrators is really horrible. The Doctor and Anji have to watch as a man is shot outside the café like a rabid dog on the loose. The TARDIS is tortured and it has a profound effect on the Doctor. Sabbath crops up again, but this time he belongs to this parallel universe and has never left the Earth. Hannah is revealed to be a traitor, probably the books best kept surprise. The Oracle is revealed to be one of the creatures that have invaded the Vortex. He has tricked Sabbath into thinking that manufacturing a focal point on Earth, Alan Turing, and collapsing it would protect the Earth from the Vortex creatures. Instead it destroys this reality completely, past and present and causes the death of several realities surrounding it…possibly causing the death of the Vortex itself! Alternative histories are vying for dominance; they are back where they started except reality is closer to the brink of collapse…

Embarrassing bits: Oh sheesh where do I start? Anji, fully aware that reality has been pulled out of joint recently, wanders around for 50 odd pages wondering why everyone thinks she is a smelly foreigner and why there is no technology. Okay so she does realise that she should have realised sooner but for a (supposedly) clever woman she does come across as a right dozy cow. Characters have the weakest of motivations (Hannah, Frank and Dee all tell us a pathetic story of why they joined the resistance…and this is only characterisation we see out of any of them!). The Doctor and Anji are public enemies numbers one and two and (sigh) decide to go to the pub for a pint because they are bored of hiding out! Pages 214-218 contain the stupidest character to appear in ANY Doctor Who story, a policeman who genuinely believes that hundreds of protestors turned their weapons on themselves and wiped themselves out…oh and that the Doctor is an actor from the telly and not a terrorist! The argument between the Doctor and Anji rings so false. Pages 230-231 are also pant wettingly bad, when the Doctor tries to give himself up and says his name, the guard recognises it and tells his pal of course he knows what the terrorist looks like and then looks at a photo in his pocket, realises it’s the Doctor and goes “I’ve got the terrorist!”…what are we, three-year-old readers or something? The technobabble fused ending makes no sense whatsoever and, frustratingly, takes us back to exactly where we were at the end of Time Zero! The biggest embarrassment for me was my initial review of this book that claims it is some kind of masterpiece (or fricking amazing I think I said)…what the hell was I on back then? Mind altering drugs?

Funny bits: Pretty much all of the embarrassing bits section actually.

Result: Illogical, unsubtle and so stupid in places it defies logic; this has to be one of the sloppiest Doctor Who books ever written. A fascist state, altered reality, history re-written; clichés all and yet the setting is the strongest thing about the book and its unflinching brutality is quite engrossing in places. The characterisation is weaker than my boyfriend’s tea (yuck) and the prose hardly deserves the term, it is practically the transcript of an untransmitted script! Marvel at the banal dialogue, gasp at the inexplicable climax (how the hell does killing one man destroy an entire reality?) and remind yourself that Doctor Who books are just for really stupid kids after all. Almost so bad its good in places, this continues the shocking decline started in The Infinity Race and proves that this whole altered universe idea was really misconceived: 3/10

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Blue Box by Kate Orman

Plot: The internet revolution is about to begin and threatening its explosion of innovation is a piece of technology from an alien world. The Doctor, Peri, a journalist Chick Peters and computer hacker Bob team up to take on the sinister Sarah Swan who will stop at nothing to harness this alien device…

Theatrical Traveller: I’m starting to sound like a broken record but this has actually been an excellent run of adventures when concerning its Doctors. Kate Orman is not the first person you would think of when it comes to writing for the sixth Doctor, primarily because she is so in love with the seventh and eighth incarnations but she brings sixie to life with real affection here. I remember the interviews that were published at the time, Kate confessed her liking for this Doctor and it shines through in the writing. Colin Baker would be proud.

The Doctor never showed a flicker of interest in Peri, he didn’t act like a father, more like an older brother with a serious case of sibling rivalry. Usually the Doctor dressed like a cross between a flower child and a character out of Dickens. It wasn’t unusual for him to talk about the end of the world. He likes charging in and making a bunch of noise, not caring what anybody thinks. He says of himself: “Anybody can do incredible things if they’ve got incredible resources. It takes an artist to make poetry out of bits of string and paper clips.” The Doctor takes up a lot of space and not just because he’s a big man. He moves around a lot. He fills the air with words and gestures. He’s the focal point of any room he’s in. While his people sit back and let the universe go by, the Doctor likes to roll up his sleeves and plunge right in. The Doctor hasn’t been killed because it never occurs that he is in danger. He wants to save the Earth because it’s Peri’s home. He’s a pain in the ass but fun to be around. He can pack Peri’s name with a world of irritation. The Doctor is the smartest person Peri knows. Unfortunately he is also the smartest person he knows. He thinks he is invulnerable and can shout his way out of any trouble. He needs somebody to look after him, he doesn’t have anybody. The Doctor is utterly unselfconscious in his coat – people still take him seriously in it and only he could get away with that. The Doctor speaks in a crisp English accent with relish, as though just pronouncing words was a pleasure in itself.

Busty Babe: Peri’s parents gave her the wanderlust, a mating pair of archaeologists who took her with them from one continent to another through her teenage years. She was looking for a way out and when she met the Doctor she knew she had found it. Peri and the Doctor spend a lot of time in half hearted bickering, usually when one of them made a stupid mistake. He burnt dinner, she got lost, he couldn’t steer, she got attacked by some animal. It felt weird for Peri being surrounded by familiar language, money and food. Peri has been wearing more garish clothes lately, not to compete with the Doctor, but to try and make him realise how outlandish his own outfit was. It isn’t an adventure for Peri anymore, it’s a nightmare like a screwed up version of real life. She can’t do it much longer. This wa sher big chance to go back to living a normal life. You’ve gotta love the scene where Peri goes insane with the flamethrower. Are they best friends because they are thrown into one crisis after another? Peri realises at this story’s close that she likes the Doctor and wants to be with him. When the Doctor regenerated Peri panicked rather than helped. She’s still trying to make that up to him.

Twists: Both the cover and blurb brilliant, an enticing introduction to the book. Compare Blue Box and The King of Terror for their very different perspectives on America…which do you think is more realistic? Bob Salmon is such a charming character you long for him to have been a companion. Peri and Bob’s high tech crime is hilarious…cross-dressing and thieving! You know the Doctor is in trouble when he kicks Swan out of her own system, the first defiant act that builds into a dramatic series of confrontations. The component is one of five parts that assemble into an Eridani super computer. It was travelling to a colony when a flood of radio signals from Earth misled it into thinking it had already reached the colony. The Eridani are trying to reassemble the computer with the Doctor’s help. The Eridani are so desperate to get their parts back they killed a collector who refused to let it go. I love the scene inside the MUD; it’s a visually interesting way to explore the computer world in a novel. The missing component is sentient and alive, its purpose to adapt and analyse technology. It is able to reproduce countless times and forms a close bond with its user that makes you instinctively care for the creature. Breaking the bond can be harmful for the user and the creature. It has the potential to wreck civilisation in a very short amount of time. The Doctor chasing Swan through the Net is gripping. There is something very scary about a device that can turn you psychotically protective of it and when Swan beats Chick with a baseball bat you realise just how insidious the creature is. The twists about Chick’s mixed gender is surprising, not in itself, but because it is a wholly character twist. When attacked, the savant downloads into Luis’ mind, he effectively becomes a blue box for the human mind, he can turn anybody compliant. The Eridani were intending the slow packet to be a gift to be a gift to a rebellious colony to subdue them. The fact that it crashed on Earth is still a welcome test of its abilities.

Funny Bits: The eavesdropping gag on page 46 is great.
“Oh and its Doc. TOR. The second syllable is as precious as the first.”

Result: Set in America, written in the first person and sitting on the cusp of the computer revolution, Blue Box is one of the most innovative PDAs. The book lives and breathes the US, you actually feel as though you are there and Chick’s investigative narration gives the story some edge. There is an examination of the Doctor and Peri that outshines any other and Orman writes a superb sixth Doctor, powerful and emotional, irritating and huggable. There are a number of fascinating concepts (especially the alien computer that hatches) but the book is slightly too relaxed in dealing with them. The pace of the book is leisurely, but this does give the author time to unveil her setting and characters with some clarity. Sarah Swan is the star of the book, a thoroughly human villain but cold and terrifying in all the best ways: 8/10