Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tabular review: The Angels take Manhattan

Hi, and welcome to a new style of review.  I don't know if it works, or even if it's worth persisting with, but my opinions on The Angels take Manhattan are much more easily bloggable if I just make a table with positives and negatives.  If two asterisks are  next to a "cool" or "not cool" line item, it's because they were very cool - or very not cool - as the case may be.  Three makes it oustanding - or cringeworthy.

So, here we go: the first tabular review of The Angels take Manhattan, and possibly Doctor Who history.

Not Cool
River Song – her best appearance ever**
The Angels take Manhattan
Amy's farewell
Statue of Liberty Angel**
Amy & Rory's rooftop scene***
Time can't be rewritten if it's documented
Angel's battery farm concept
Cherubs in Grayle's basement – uh?**
Michael McShane in Doctor Who
Wanton regeneration energy use**

Angels reverting to type from Blink***


Visit1935 without meeting famous historical figure (statue not included)


Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

I don't get why people (I'm looking at you, Radio Free Skaro) rag on Chris Chibnall.  I'm not convinced he's the greatest script writer that Who has, but every single one of his scripts has been perfectly ... functional.  I'm a big fan of 42, while the Earth Reptile story in Series 5 didn't fascinate me, but was hardly dire.  To be honest, functional is the best assessment of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.  It's enjoyable and engaging but this is balanced by the darker turn it takes in conclusion.

One of the script's more disappointing features is that although the oncoming missiles are references regularly, they in no way increase the tension. They, like Nefertiti and the Silurians, are simply there as plot expediencies.

The presence of historical figures Queen Nefertiti and the game hunter Riddell was odd.  That the Doctor would call someone who kills for sport a friend is jarring in the first place, but neither character actually served a specific script purpose that couldn't have been filled by a regular (or Rory's dad).  Their role was so sidelined that it actually cheapens their Nefertiti's involvement (Riddell being a fictional character).  "What else would be cool on a spaceship with dinosaurs? I know, a famous Egyptian queen!"

The predicably hackneyed interplay between guest companions didn't help, but also added to the epilogue's "biggest boy-girl left turn" since The Invasion of Time.  In so doing, the script cheapened Nefertiti's to add the element of "and we all lived happily ever after".  If you're going to give an explanation why a famous historical figure drops abruptly out of recorded sight, at least give them the dignity of an entire story about it, rather than a postscript.

Doctor Who Dinosaurs
It was a great acting performance by Rory and Brian Williams, wasn't it?  Their shared mannerisms made them an ultimately believable father-son duo.

Nefertiti and Riddell didn't need to be there, let alone travel in the TARDIS.  The current "Let's let anyone go for a ride in the TARDIS" thing doesn't synch with a man trying so obviously to keep a low profile.  Neither does it make you feel like the current "companions" are special - it's a wonderful, mind-blowing experience made valuable through it's rarity.  That the Doctor chooses to travel with someone is the most incredible gift, a journey that elevates a character from "acquaintance" to "friend".  With seemingly every second person taking a series of trips, the value of this gift decreases.

Although the Mitchell and Webb robots weren't my idea of how a robot should act, they can be easily explained away as "Someone in the galaxy thinks this is how robots interact".  However, it labours an already-loaded concept (dinosaurs, spaceships, silurians, Nefertiti and now squabbly robots).

It's obviously a script based around a title.  That said, the title says "fun" and that's Chibnall and director Saul Metzstein delivered.  Basing episodes on concepts (eg. Skeletons in spacesuits) can be hit or miss.  So it was a pleasant surprise when, despite the abject title, Chibnall's script was quite thoughtful. The Silurian presence was unexpected and the best possible story genesis, while using the almost-robotic Indian Space Agency was a deft touch that continued Who's estrangement from the new series' anchor point, early 21st century Britain.

In two words: Kiddie fun.

Rating: A solid 3.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Waters of Mars

Best.  This is hardly revolutionary, but The Waters of Mars is easily the best of the four specials broadcast in 2009.  In many ways, being the best of 2009 could end up damning Waters with faint praise, which is completely undeserved - partly because Planet of Death and End of Time (particularly) were schmaltzy pap, while The Next Doctor, while promising, features the uber-anachronistic Cyber-king rampaging through 19th Century London.

Waters benefits from Graham Harper's well-paced direction, a great cast, dialogue which is (for the most part) really tight, a claustrophobic atmosphere and the most terrifying adversary of the new series, bar none.  (Seriously, don't give me that Weeping Angels crap).  The Floods are implacable, calculating and atavistic - a microbial version of the Wirrn, who absorb knowledge as well as form.  Finally, for most of the story, the Doctor wants nothing more than to leave, something we've not seen since Frontios.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Original - Mission to the Unknown

Courtesy: TARDISwiki
Suspense.  Unknown sets up Masterplan beautifully ... from the stranded spacecraft to the Intergalactic council and ultimately a believable security operative Marc Cory.  Upon listening, it has a wonderful suspenseful atmosphere that was the very nature of the early Hartnells but was minimised as Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis opted for the base-under-siege stories seemingly lit with spotlights left over from the war.  Doom stalks the rocket's crew - but not too quickly which only increases the audience's expectancy.  The pacing is just wonderful.

All this actually leads me to believe this serial is perhaps Terry Nation's best work.  OK, so he did The Daleks and The Daleks' Invasion of Earth isn't bad, but the best parts of Masterplan are unquestionably Dennis Spooner's work, while the same might be said of Genesis and Robert Holmes.  The dialogue here, so amped up and florid, denotes this as Nation's work just as effectively as the prefix space (as in space garbage, space medicine, space saving ad infinitum).  That said - and against all odds - the melodramatic script meshes perfectly with the inherent tension.

Evil.  In Life, the Universe and Everything, one-time Who script editor describes a the Krikkitmen's xenophobia as "cold, implacable ... not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold ... And it was deadly - again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly."  And that's the perfect description of the Daleks in both Unknown and Masterplan.  And it's the how the Daleks are best portrayed: in their debut, this episode and it's big brother, Power, Evil, Genesis and, more recently, Dalek.

Courtesy: wikimedia commons
Prequel.  Mission to the Unknown was the prequel for a series solely centred on the Daleks; it obviously never happened.  Such a series would have had to focus on new human characters like Jason Cory and Sara Kingdom as basing an entire series on stilted shouting crosses into pure, naive idiocy - as it turned out, TV execs thought as I do.  As it happens, much of the mythology built up by Nation for this cutaway has been adopted as gospel by the expanded Whoniverse - the Special/Space Security Service and Varga plants chief among them.

The Daleks are kept in the background here - c.f. Evil/Revelation of the Daleks - and are perfectly capable of delivering extended dialogue; their presence ramps up the tension with the happy result that Unknown doesn't miss Hartnell, Purves and the female companion of the month at all.

In three words: Hartnell era's best?

Rating: 5.

Monday, August 13, 2012

PDA: Instruments of Darkness - Gary Russell

Gary Russell made me think!  No, really, he did a good thing!  279 pages weren't wasted!  It's a miracle!

During his time writing Past Doctor Adventures, Russell made it a personal crusade to redeem the then-pilloried Sixth incarnation of the Time Lord, fleshing out the lurid continuity of the Colin Baker era.  First came Mel's official introductory story, Business Unusual - which I enjoyed - and eventually a real regeneration for Doc 6 in the form of the immortal Spiral Scratch.

It's campaigns like these that, despite the best of intentions, have earned Russell his reputation as a purveyor of the highest order of fanwank.

That said, however, despite myriad failings, Instruments of Darkness is a reasonable sequel to Business Unusual.

Irritations include a marginalised and relatively-poorly-characterised Doctor, reliance on continuity (although it's much better than some of the author's previous work), stylistic inconsistencies, dialogue peeled straight from the Star Wars prequels and Russell indulging his  Bond fetish.  Naming a pair of female assassins Ms de Menour and Ms (Mal) Feasance?  Inserting a piece about the Doctor introducing Fleming to the ornithologist on whom Bond was based?  The cult-series mix is simply too much for an admittedly-pulpy premise to bear.

But in spite of these elements, Russell deftly portrays a series of interconnected characters whose reliance upon each other is notable.  Throughout the text, couplets emerge where each member is completely dependent on the other - for existence, validation, love.  Even the Doctor is not immune as he encounters the companion that wasn't, Evelyn Smythe; and in fact only Mel appears immune.

This symbiosis is woven unobtrusively throughout and only it hits the reader with real force when it becomes apparent at the novel's conclusion.  It's sweetly juxtaposed with the climactic fireworks brought about by some old-school Doctor trickery reminiscent of Pyramids of Mars.

In two words: Mixed bag.

Rating: 3

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Original: The Visitation

Disco android.  Draw your own conclusions, but you can argue that Saward's best writing for Doctor Who was based around androids; certainly they feature heavily in his first three scripts.  The plot here, of Earthshock as well as Resurrection of the Daleks relies upon them but arguably only here is the android treated as a character: at the end of Episode 1, it strokes the key as it locks the crew in the house.  The Earthshock androids are brilliant as simple mechanical killers.  In contrast, Stien (Resurrection) is supposed to have much more depth but ends up being nothing more than a plot device.

The Brigadier would love the Terileptils.  Despite a hit/miss design based around early animatronics, the Terileptils are a reasonably well-conceived race but poorly characterised.  The concept of a warlike race treasuring art is interesting but this is mentioned only in one passage and on the whole they comes across as shouty and stereotypically evil despite a worthy back story.  Doctor Who's original run featured 17 attempted Earth invasions; only the Terileptils, the Aliens from The Faceless Ones, the Kraals and the Zygons aren't immune to bullets.  Combine this with a reliance on Soliton gas (what happens when their stores run out?) and suddenly they're rather lightweight.  However, our last view of one suggests an era three years in the future as a Terileptil's head melts while it groans in pain.

Budget.  Obviously Mace's hideout is a set taped with VT rather than a filmed stable.  How in holy hell is this cheaper than just finding an appropriate stable?

Adric's hairstyle.  That's all.

Actually, that's not all.  It has more personality than he does, leading to...

Companion woes.  There really isn't enough for all three to do, so Saward falls into the standard "out" of simply having one of them brainwashed or captured.  Adric serves no plot purpose whatsoever.  Due to their interplay, her seeming lack of angst, and her independent nature, you absolutely identify with Davison's assertion that he felt Nyssa fit him best as a companion.  Which in turn leads to...

Eric Saward obviously had some issues.  Adric's all about the teen angst.  The Terileptil leader is the shoutiest villain this side of Terry Molloy.  Tegan was devised as a mouthy character but just sounds bitchy.  Given that this script apparently won Saward the job as script editor, you have to wonder if Jon Nathan-Turner saw this conflict and said "There's my idea for my next Doctor and companion combination", or if Saward simply specialised in bitchiness and this manifested in his work.  The script drips with repressed anger; at times you can justify it and at others it's just irritating.

Davison's the best thing in this.  The story says that Peter Davison took the role as The Doctor because he wanted to "mature" into a leading man - as evidenced here, it takes him about two stories.  Despite some occasional delivery issues (he sometimes raises the pitch of his voice at the end of sentences, creating the implication of doubt - most notably in the Episode 3 cliffhanger) he quite compelling despite a script which sees his best lines shouted at by his opponent.  He also has remarkably little to do.

This makes it a typically Saward ending.  Eric Saward was notorious for thinking the Doctor's destinations as more interesting than his actions.  The serial ends with a scuffle in which the bakery is accidentally set alight - The Doctor does nothing to really inspire a conclusion.  The same can be said in later Saward stories like Earthshock, Attack of the Cybermen and Revelation of the Daleks.

Rating: 3.

In four words: Sets the Saward standard.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Elisabeth Sladen - an autobiography

When Elisabeth Sladen passed away in April 2011, I was shocked and upset than at the death of any other of my childhood fiction stalwarts.  She consistent, intriguing and still on TV, but her death shook me up more so than even that of her co-star (and my then-hero) Jon Pertwee in 1996, despite that occurring in the midst of my cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat phase.

Her most notable role by far was as Doctor Who's best ever companion, Sarah Jane Smith, a role she played, on-and-off for nearly forty years.  Her autobiography, released posthumously, is an interesting work which speaks volumes - in hushed tones - about the woman who would have preferred to be known as Elisabeth Miller.  Of course due to the vagaries of Equity, the UK actor's guild, that wasn't ever a possibility but contributes to the defining theme of her memoir, of someone utterly at home in family settings.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Original series audio: The Massacre

Chaplet(te) Vocal Stylings:  Unfortunately, neither Jackie Lane - who'll become renowned during her stay on the show for this - nor Annette Robinson (Anne Chaplette) really know which accent they're supposed to be using at which time.  There's a dearth of consistency in their accents, but they very well may be related, so at least we can call it a genetic disposition.  We can (kind of) forgive Jackie Lane as her character started off planned as a cockney but was forced to change when Beeb management decided the only possible accent for a consistent character was the Received Pronunciation.  That notwithstanding, it's some pretty terrible Cockney/Nor'n/Mummerset going on between ostensible relatives.

Similarity to New Series themes: Many Whovians will be familiar with the haunting soliloquy Hartnell delivers when Steven leaves the TARDIS on Wimbledon Common at the conclusion of the story.  However, it's not the standard, feisty, confident Hartnell we've come to expect, nor even the same decisive Doctor of the past four episodes.  It's the first ever appearance of the Lonely God, a mere forty-two (Oh boy, there's a draw for you!) years before Russell T. Davies coined the phrase.  I don't care what anyone says, I defy you to tell me Hartnell has ever been better.

If Sophia Myles' wonderful Madame du Pompadour was the first offical Moffat "Girl who Waited", then Anne Chaplet was her prototype.  She does little else but spend four episodes afraid for her life where layer upon layer of threat is piled upon her.  Not counting Mission to the Unknown, this is the first ever Doctor-Lite story as well and also perhaps the first pure "companion character study".  There are also harkens to the Tennant story "Fires of Pompeii", where the Doctor refuses to get involved in a great tragedy.

It's incredible upon first listening (true, the first time I've ever listened to this story despite reading the Target novelisation in 1993) how similar many of these methods are reiterated in the New Series.  Next up for Moffat et al: a return for the pure historical?

Intensity:  It's got Steven in it, so it's likely going to be rather erm, focused... Most of the dialogue is delivered with almost Shatner-like intensity, spat/spoken/shouted/whispered as if the lines are lethal projectiles.  This only adds to the serial, making you appreciate simply how much is at stake in a historical episode about which not many people are aware.  In order to make this sink in to the audience, Lucarotti and Tosh had to make identifiable characters to stop us from saying "Yeah, but so what"?  Remember too, that this has so much gravitas because of its context, transposed between two historicals penned by Donald Cotton.

Rating: 4

In a word: Prescient.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Original: The Three Doctors

Bob 'n' Dave.  Written by the boys from Bristol, The Three Doctors remains somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine.  It's padded, is perhaps Sergeant Benton's greatest moment and features many of the era's most redoubtable guest stars in Roy Purcell, Clyde Pollitt, Rex Robinson and Stephen Thorne.  It's also interesting to note that it's in this serial that the Doctor finally breaks the Brigadier's mind when the series' other character known by title only decides that Pertwee has somehow regressed to Troughton.

This is, in a way, a bit unfair.  The Brigadier's seen enough crazy stuff to make him believe anything is possible so why shouldn't Pertwee change back into Troughton - it's hardly like the Doctor to explain, in-depth, the Time Lord penal code.  It's the pigheaded refusal to listen to Benton which makes the Brigadier seem so chump-ish here.  Well, this, and it's made worse by prior scenes (eg. from The Mutants where they emerge from the TARDIS and say "Don't tell the Brigadier, he'll never believe you").  By this stage of the series' evolution, The Brig (capital T, capital B) had become a parent figure that children - the most anti-establishment figures of them all - poke fun at for having no imagination.  That Pertwee's Doctor was the archetypal Mother Hen, swooping in to protect her children makes this all the more arch, seventies bliss.

Back to Bob 'n' Dave.  Bob 'n' Dave (Baker & Martin, if you insist) are symptomatic - along with each seasons' attempt at climactic maturation - of Who's transition from the hard-hitting alien invasion drama that Derrick Sherwin wanted (and Douglas Camfield would have been perfect to direct) to Barry Letts' and Terrance Dicks' family-time stories*.  Some suggest this process was less transition and more decay - personally I think Season 7 is the most consistently brilliant Who until 2005 - but this isn't entirely true.  No matter how excellent in retrospect, it wasn't Season 7 I first fell in love with.  As a toddler, I became infatuated with the UNIT family (Brig, Jo, Benton, Yates, several Jimmys and Corporal Bell), the Master, Daleks - and most definitely, the Pertwee Doctor.  He was my absolute, unassailable favourite until  I really got to grips with Troughton in my early-to-mid twenties.  

That said, Baker/Martin's scripts were rife with pun-sational or schmaltzy dialogue and they evidenced an ever-increasing desire to create marketable catchphrases ("Contact has been made") so that The Kids could tell what the bad guys were up to.  They, more than any other writers, were responsible for most of the "Don't tell the grown-ups" moments; unsurprising considering their background in childrens' television.

Stephen Thorne.  I love Stephen Thorne as Omega in this, I always have.  While you can slag off Bob 'n' Dave all you like for occasional cringeworthy lines ("I got the feeling they were more deadly enemies"), the idea of a man kept alive by will alone - coupled with the imagery of Omega removing his helmet to display nothing beneath - is absolutely brilliant television.  Thorne does absolute justice to the character, moving between inarticulate rage and boasting arrogance with finesse Bruce Purchase could only splutter at.  Thorne's rich, deep vocal portrayal makes Omega what he is despite a physically imposing frame.  Favourite line: "If I exist only by my will, then my will is to destroy!" - delivered with such unhinged insanity that you actually end up feeling for him.

Troughton.  While there were elements of Troughton's Doctor which emerged throughout the serial, he was actually written quite differently from his time as the lead.  He's impish, but without the occasional gravitas which typified many of his best lines.  It's nice to see him - and painful to see Hartnell, who was only 65 but looks every day of his character's 400 years - but you feel his Doctor is very much thought of as "the funny one".

In two words: Childhood relived.

Rating: 4.

* 51-word sentence.  Personal best!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Liveblog: The Leisure Hive, episode 4

Titles:  So where were we?  Ah yes, we'd just left the aged Doctor, the French-dressed Romana and a chirruping insect to rip the face off another insect wearing a skin-suit.  Tell me, in which series could you fully expect to write an introductory sentence like that?  I love Doctor Who!

No matter what, though, I'm much more comfortable with Drs. Davison and Colin Baker in the "starfield" credits.  With Tom Baker, they just don't seem to feel right - too clean.  Tom Baker's best years were when the series had a real gritty feel to it.

Reprise: I don't get it - can the Doctor understand the Foamasi language?  And where did they find the second Foamasi?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Liveblog: The Leisure Hive, episode 3

Opening titles:  Let's talk (briefly) about music.  A friend of mine who's a classically trained composer once said he liked this version of the theme music better than any other Who music simply because it offered the right balance of melody and rhythm.  You've gotta hand it to him, he's right.  It really is a nice, iconic theme - probably the most well-remembered of them all, especially starting and finishing with the "sting".

Reprise: Well, it's obvious that the Argoin don't belong to anything like the Galactic Geneva Convention - this sort of thing would be highly frowned upon, using a prisoner as a guinea-pig for arcane experimentry.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Liveblog: The Leisure Hive, episode 2

Credits: Watching them again, they seem much cleaner, brighter - a credits sequence for the video tape era.  It was the source of an interesting, but friendly, disagreement between Jacqueline Hill (initial companion Barbara Wright, and Lexa in the following serial Meglos) and First Doctor William Hartnell - he wanted the series modernised, shot in colour and made much more visually impressive while she felt the series was much better suited to dark angles and mystery.  I can completely accept both points of view - with the romantic in me probably siding with Miss Wright.

Post-reprise: I'm going to go on about, I can tell, but the music really is very intrusive as Pangol goes to the control panel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Liveblog: The Leisure Hive episode 1

Credits: Bloody hell, that's a change from the old diamond-shaped logo!  At least, it would have been in 1980 when JNT commissioned Sid Sutton to create them.  Sutton then went on to create the similar (but more lurid) 6th Doctor title credits.

By: David Fisher, an underappreciated Doctor Who scriptwriter.  He doesn't rank in the top 5 (for mine, Holmes, Houghton, Hulke, Whitaker and *squints a bit* oh, let's go for John Lucarotti), but his work during a difficult era for Who is still under-regarded.  He had to write for an arrogant, narcissistic leading man who thought himself better at comedy that he was, a producer on a shoestring and three separate script editors who each wanted him completely different script styles from him.  That he did so well with stories like The Androids of Tara and the Stones of Blood is commendable ... if you thought the Hinchcliffe/Williams transition was jarring, try going from for-better-or-worse comic (Adams) to science-at-all-costs (Bidmead).

(Come to think of it, Fisher probably doesn't make the top 10 - I haven't mentioned Dicks, Sherwin, Haisman/Lincoln, Wyatt, Spooner or Cotton, yet).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Other - The Discontinuity Guide, by Cornell, Day and Topping

Originally excited to have finally found a second-hand copy, I was surprised by it's scatter-gun approach.  Each story is laid out in categories where often there is no explanation, minimal linking and less style.  As a book, written by three of the Whoniverse's leading anoraks, The Discontinuity Guide is for superfans who don't need much context to understand subtle references.  If this is your target audience (and where else could they be aiming?) this is fine, but makes it lightweight and somewhat engaging.

That they devote an entire section in each story to risible double entendres - grasping every possible reference no matter how banal - is the kind of thing that makes authors look back and shudder at their apparently virginal mid-nineties.  Their description of The Horns of Nimon as "Rather wonderful with some friends and a bottle of wine" only serves to emphasise this fact - no matter how true it may/may not be.  Although marketed as humour, it isn't - it takes a lot to make a book of lists funny.

Genre-defining. For it's numerous bad points, The Discontinuity Guide was the first light-hearted series guide written by fans since the party-line days of Peter Haining, Adrian Rigelsford and the factless Jean-Marc Lofficier.  It was written by guys who obviously cared about the series, had moderate knowledge of TV production - by educated fans, for educated fans.  Since it's initial appearance in 1995, it has spawned several internet-based imitations, including one which actually bears the same title; as well as starting the ball rolling towards the definitive Who guides: Lawrence Miles & Tat Wood's About Time series.

In a word: Platform.

Rating: 3.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Original - The Curse of Fenric

The Curse of Fenric is regarded as one of - if not the - seminal McCoy story.  It is part of the Ace crescendo, a key part of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan" and features some of the best plotting of any post-Bidmead script.  It's also part of the thrum that led to such a successful Original Series sendoff, which climaxed so pleasingly with Survival (and created the Virgin New Adventures).  It's a little contrived at points, but we're talking about Doctor Who here, so that's forgiveable.  The biggest question mark on the whole "masterplan" - apart from whether it actually existed, if you do some reading - is why the Doctor feels the need to only reveal the plot in small morsels even though he apparently knows what's going on from the very beginning.  There's no real reason for it, and at times makes this incarnation quite frustrating.

The acting is relatively tight (except for Eastenders rejects serving as vampyrettes), with all of Millington, Rev. Wainwright, Judson and Kathleen Dudman being portrayed convincingly.  It is much more striking for the simple fact that's it's backed by quality production values - SFX, animatronics (?) and masks. 

Thinking outside the boxPerhaps Ian Briggs' most impressive feature in this script is his lateral thinking skills.  The "chess" motif is done to death in nearly every media, but it's utilised well here - as is faith being the only defence against haemovores.  It is, however, unsurprising that there is an underlying pessimism about humanity's future given the serial was commissioned and edited by Andrew Cartmel (whose book Warlock) I found amongst the best of the Virgin New Adventures.

Even though the Cartmel Masterplan - and the Script Editor has implied he spent three years obsessed with Sophie Aldred - was discussed in point one, Ace's attempted-sexy "There's a storm coming" sequence is just embarrassing, for the writer and actor.  I don't care if it's part of the "coming of age" story arc, it's about as erotic as a wet fart and sounds only marginally better.  

In a word: Crescendo.

Rating: 4.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Adventure: Original Sin - Andy Lane


Plot:  A series of  mindless murders on 30th Century Earth leads the Doctor and Benny to investigate.  It's not bad, spanning interesting planets but relies heavily upon continuity and knowledge of the established future history of Earth. 
Source: wikipedia

Characterisation: The Doctor (7) is extremely well written, and (for the most part) it sounds as if Sylvester McCoy is speaking straight from the page.  Having not read much of Cwej & Forrester, they seem encouraging and likeable enough (Cwej especially).  Benny is perhaps the most consistently drawn character of the entire series and here is no different.  It's disappointing that Vaughn comes across as a psychopath, rather than as the calculating adversary of his Troughton-era appearance.

Continuity-fest.  Yup.  It starts off with the standard Virgin dystopian future, this time set in the last remnants of Earth Empire (c.f. The Mutants).  Given the presence of Tobias Vaughn, there are myriad references to Cybermen; it's a shame that he was brought back as a villain.  Also, it gets sickening how much good, old-school Whoniverse villainry Vaughn pins himself for.

Other: Can't work out for the hell of me what the book has to do with any Original Sins.  The Hith are less convincing than any alien race since the (also sluglike) Gastropods.  Vaughn's consciousness moving between every INITEC 'bot - but only being in one at any time - is perhaps the most impractical, least-useful (when to be in which bot?), rubbishy bit of AI in the Whoniverse, yet still serves as a key plot point.

In a word: Introductory.

Rating:  3.

For a full review, visit Original Sin's review at Books with Balls.

New Adventure: City at World's End - Christopher Bulis

Since receiving my first Doctor Who novelization in 1986 (the much-misunderstood The Gunfighters), I’ve managed to collect a rather surprising amount of Who-related books; fiction and non-fiction, real-world production information and plain, simple fantasy. I don’t read them much anymore (this is the first Who book reviewed on BwB), but occasionally delve into one to really get a feel for my teen years again.

And City at World’s End is almost certainly the worst Doctor Who novel I’ve read, and I’ve read the ultimate testament to fanboy continuity-geekdom, War of the Daleks. City, by Christopher Bulis, was one of the earlier BBC Books attempts to carry on the Doctor’s adventures while the TV show was on hiatus between 1989-2005.

Who took on a life of it’s own after the ’89 cancellation, as books describing “Missing” or “New” adventures of the Time Lord were published by various enterprises. Many of these (cough, War of the Daleks, cough) came straight from fanboys and were astonishing in their ability to turn one line of dialogue from a single episode broadcast in 1973 into entire 279-page novels. (For some reason, novelizations of the original serials – two 23-minute long episodes or ten - were almost always fit into 127-page books; for the New/Missing adventures it’s 279).

It’s this kind of backstory which explains the Who dichotomy. Because of it’s wonderfully simply and unique format, Who-fiction can be purely derivative stuff, completely original – and is often both. Take for example the 2007 broadcast stories “Human Nature” and “Family of the Blood”. These stories were written by Paul Cornell, who adapted his 1995 novel “Human Nature” to suit the reimagined series’ head honcho Russell T. Davies’ story arc allowing the Doctor’s nemesis to be re-born.

It turns out that the Master appeared in a story (Utopia) very much like this one – a group of humans building a rocket to escape their world’s apocalypse, all the time under threat by hostile aliens. I hope RTD wasn’t aware of this book when plotting Utopia, because the series deserves much better. City at World’s End is an appalling piece of fiction – even if, in embryo, the idea has merit.

City is remarkably poorly put together. It’s as transparent as a glass of water and features several (alleged) subplots which are both boring, useless – thus, utterly flawed – before they all converge nowhere. Typical Whoniverse “religion is blind and corrupt” themes (cf. 1984’s Planet of Fire) aren’t so much hinted at as shouted from the mountain tops. There’s nothing wrong with a simple plot, as long as it’s paced well – a great example of this is the early Bond novels.

Pity is, we’ve covered most of our review space and haven’t even gotten to the words yet. The “adventure” is headlined by the original TARDIS crew of the Doctor (as portrayed by William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan as well as English schoolteachers Ian and Barbara. Hartnell, whose mannerisms should make writing for him a relative doddle (as compared to the real, as opposed to remembered, Tom Baker years) is characterized less as a gentleman traveler and speaks words like a bored telephone sales operative.

Bulis throws about verbs like a ham-fisted bun vendor and completely fails to apply any sense of urgency to what we’re told is a desperate situation. He even trots out that “give every clue it’s a main character, but don’t refer to them by name until the very end of the chapter” hackneyed crap. The prelude (and first half of the book) were of such stunning shoddiness that I only continued reading so as to see a) how bad it could get and b) how much I could pan it in a review.

Much of these flaws can be repaired, however, given a good editing job. Unfortunately, being able to poke so many holes is almost every aspect of the book means the editor (at that time one of Stephen Cole or Justin Richards) must have been on a horrible deadline, as the book is laughably incoherent. By now, the series (of books) was obviously being run by the fan-boys on Adamsian-style deadlines.

In short, the book doesn’t deserve even half of the column inches I’ve devoted to it. Sorry.

In a word: Unedited.

Rating:  1.