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.