Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Devil Goblins of Neptune by Keith Topping and Martin Day

Plot: A complex conspiracy is unravelled when a sadistic alien menace threatens the Earth and the Brigadier is horrified to discover that UNIT is involved. The Doctor meanwhile, attempts to defeat the evil Waro in Russia and finds out some horrifying truths of his own…

Good Grief: The Third Doctor is such a delightfully brusque fellow and works beautifully in print. His love for the finer things in life and his gentlemanly arrogance beams from every page. In the hands of these two authors he comes across as a firm member of UNIT and an independent agent in his own right. He is a fop, a dandy, quite debauched and lacking in moral decency (clearly the CIA don’t know him that well!). He swears in Venusian. As with all the best storytellers, the Doctor’s tales are at best apocryphal and at worst entirely fabricated. He admits he is a terrible namedropper, especially when dealing with gullible humans! He is very unco-operative when trussed up like a sack of potatoes. He is not too proud to ask for help. Noble and powerfully melancholic, alone and lonely, a stranger in a very strange land. He has the ability to ‘soul catch’, transferring the dying memories of somebody into his own. An ability that would have come in handy in quite a few situations after this tale so it quite surprised me that it wasn’t taken from him in this novel. 

Smart Chick: Liz is clearly approaching the end of her time with UNIT in this story and feels quite out of her depth with the military invasion of her life. She is a meteor expert, medical Doctor and a quantum physicist with an IQ of over 200. She hated working for UNIT at first but has grown accustomed to sharing new wonders with the Doctor. She feels alienated returning to her digs at Cambridge with her college chums because she has been out of the loop for so long. She did not become a scientist to help soldier boys fight wars with nastier toys than they already have. When she is given a gun to fire at the Waro she fires blind, terrified at handling the weapon. She thinks she is getting old and feels a stab of jealousy at people who are living mundane lives and know nothing of alien invasions. After she left UNIT she published a book which earned her fame, money and death threats. Her tutor, Professor Trainor, turns out to be a huge disappointment when collaborating with the villainous Rose, and dies whilst she still has ill feeling towards him. It leaves a nasty taste in her mouth. 

Chap with the Wings: I fine character study of the season seven Brigadier who was all business and lacking the charm that creeped into his character later. Whilst an American CIA agent is looking down his nose at the British arm of UNIT the Brigadier considers Americans too loud and full of their own self-importance. You really can see why he was chosen to head UNIT since his determination to get into the heart of the conspiracy at UNIT is a potentially career destroying move. His plan to hire a group of prostitutes to rip each other’s clothes off and scrap to cause a diversion shows that he isn’t afraid to use whatever resources he has to hand to get the job done.  He is almost tricked into murdering a UNIT officer but realises there are conspiracies within conspiracies occurring like a Russian Doll of betrayal. His motto is ‘if it moves, shoot it!’ and sounds about right. It is when we go underground with the CIA and you see the difference between Control (who exploits, kills and steals from aliens) and the Brigadier (who sets them free and asks them to help save the Earth). He’s definitely the man for the job when it comes to first contact with aliens. 

Camp Soldier: You’ve got admire a man who is so chauvinistic that he admits he is all for women’s lib but thinks that having a woman as head of UNIT is taking things too far. Thank goodness he has been quietly put to pasture by the time Brigadier Bambera turns up. He’s so professional that he falls to pieces when he is in the big chair, he is trying to sleep with women when he should be doing his job and his least favourite words are ‘my boyfriend’ when chatting up the ladies. He tells one chick he is a racing driver! There is a moment of depth when he shows real remorse at having sent Benton into danger but on the whole there is a real impression of a private schoolboy trying his damdest to play James Bond and failing. Bless him. 

Foreboding: Control makes an appearance (head of the CIA) who will crop up from time to time in BBC books (Trading Futures, Time Zero). Liz Shaw has a very successful life away from UNIT and it would be nice to explore that further (The Wages of Sin). 

Twists: The Doctor escaping from Soviet ‘custody’ is one of many red herrings but a fantastic look at the physical ability of the third Doctor. Learning that something is rotten in the heart of UNIT is quite disturbing given their important role in making contact with alien races. Bruce’s infiltration into UNIT makes for memorable reading, his thought processes leave little to be desired and he steals secret information with casual abandon and leaves bombs primed in his wake. Benton is caught in the explosion in the Doctor’s laboratory. The Waro mass attacking the Soviet aircraft is well written with some memorable visual prose. When the Waro attacks the Doctor he receives deep cuts to the chest and shoulders and Liz thinks he is close to death. There was a time when alien invaders set up mining operations for a real purpose but for the Waro it is just a massive diversion. The Waro are described as evil, egotistical and depraved but not stupid and they want to cleanse the Earth with a nuclear device so only they can populate its surface. Capitalising on the ambitious James Bond feel of the era, the Doctor finds the Waro ship under the sea and has an underwater action sequence. It’s the books indulging in something that could never have made it on screen and good on them. The CIA under Control, have been harbouring aliens since the 40’s and attempting to subvert UNIT’s aims ever since the organisation was conceived. The Nedenah are the Waro’s sworn enemy and currently held hostage in CIA custody. Whilst the rest of the world has been defeating alien the US have been stealing and utilising their technology. The Doctor is quick to point out that any government would do the same and utilise it for their own benefit. What with Torchwood around plucking alien technology from the skies its any wonder there was any left for UNIT! In a horrific moment, Rose blows the brains of a Nedenah out. The Waro are defeated by turning their anger against themselves, amplifying it and ripping each other to pieces. Its quite a neat solution but the body count would be astonishing. Chalk another act of genocide up for the Doctor. Tom Bruce tries to kill himself but is reminded, ‘When you join the CIA, you join for life.’ It’s a typically unsubtle ending for an unsubtle character but its nice to see him bow out in such an ignominious fashion. 

Embarrassing bits: Mike Yates. What a prat. The prose can be a little too dry and functional at times in a very David A. McIntee sort of way. There’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of flowery description at times or delving a little more into the emotion of a situation. Like season seven itself, The Devil Goblins of Neptune is written in a very serious, action packed fashion with a focus on the nastier aspects of the military and lacking agreeable characters. Which means the authors capture the era beautifully but it’s a book to admire rather than like. Oh and the cover is dismal, as though a child has glued two pictures together without much effort. The drawing of the monsters of the piece defies belief. 

Funny bits: Benton and Yates trying to pass off as hippies. And then reporters. 
I love this exchange, ‘You do still remember how to follow orders?’ ‘Yes, but I think you’re acting like a pillock. Sir.’ 

Result: Not a bad opening act for the Past Doctor Adventures at all with plenty of action and incident to kept fans of the era happy. All the regulars are given loads to do and the book is convincingly set on an international scale (England, Russia, Nevada) and builds a gritty atmosphere of conspiracy and murder. It would seem that The X-Files created a taste for paranoia tales and the Brigadier sourcing something rotten at the heart of UNIT is worth the admission price alone. We don’t find out much about the Waro and Rose’s motives are a bit sketchy but I am willing to overlook this for the sheer amount of excitement this book provides. In order to pull off its ambitious action the series would have needed the budget of a blockbusting film and the Devil Goblins of the title feature in a number of unforgettably grisly moments. Exciting and intriguing in equal measures with only its occasionally dry prose holding it back, Devil Goblins outshines all of the other novels that kick started the various book eras (with the possible exception of Goth Opera). Authentic: 8/10

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