Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Three Doctors by: Terrance Dicks

 

The Three Doctors was written by Terrance Dicks, based on the story of the same name by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin.  It was the 17th story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

There is something to be said about Doctor Who novelizations which make an effort to improve on the visuals of the television serial.  Doctor Who, for as much as everyone loves it and adores it, is a show made on a limited budget, often out of the producers’ control, with a premise that would stop even the most expensive of budgets from fully realizing.  The Three Doctors is one of those stories whose plot involves the entering of an anti-matter universe and creatures from said universe threatening UNIT.  Omega’s realm and the battle in Omega’s mind in particular are aspects which the viewer can see are being done on a set, yet Terrance Dicks’ adaptation actually builds up the script’s inklings of a cave of wonders, emphasizing the great fire which causes the characters to leave the universe when on television it’s just a small jet of steam.  The imagery is beautiful as Dicks’s prose allows for Omega’s character to be more of a tragic figure, separated from Stephen Thorne’s iconic over the top portrayal of the Time Lord.  There is also the Gallifrey sequences of this book which are taken straight from the television serial, but there is this sense of desperation as Dicks removes some of the stoicism of the Time Lords which gives some emotional depth.  There is also an interesting note that this story is the first where the earlier Doctors are referred to as the First and Second Doctor, respectively.

 

Overall, The Three Doctors is a different style of adaptation as it follows the same beats, making the interesting decision not to increase the First Doctor’s participation in the plot while still giving some more depth.  It is however, slightly inferior even with the lush prose and descriptions as nothing can replicate Pertwee, Troughton, and Manning’s chemistry.  8/10.

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Riyria Revelations: Theft of Swords by: Michael J. Sullivan

 

There is a clear divide between classic and modern family, with classic fantasy being more focused on worldbuilding and epic quests with maybe one or two important character relationships while modern fantasy characterizes itself by the characters, often making more of an intimate experience and a deeper character experience.  The 2011 first volume of The Riyria Revelations after a successful period of time on the online self-publishing circuit before being picked up by Orbit Books before the final book of the series could be published.  Theft of Swords collects The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha which were originally published in 2008 and 2009, respectively, by Michael J. Sullivan.  Sullivan drafted the entire series before even publishing, not originally having the intent to publish these, being written for his thirteen-year-old daughter with dyslexia.  It’s an omnibus that across two books essentially tells a complete story about the assassination and reinstation of a monarchy while two honorable thieves are framed for the assassination and then forced to kidnap the rightful heir to the throne.  The first book is essentially a murder mystery while the second is your classic example of quest fantasy to destroy an evil monster.  It becomes an interesting delineation with the two books being essentially separate stories that dovetail into one another.  Avempartha especially has a great recap for new readers in explaining the events of the previous book in the form of a play called The Crown Conspiracy, which was given good reviews but was criticized for not having any elves or more fantasy races in it.

 

The feature of Theft of Swords is really the dynamic between Hadrian and Royce, our pair of honorable thieves.  Hadrian is also an expert swordsman with some secrets hinted on the status of his family and perhaps gets the more interesting characterization as Royce ends up playing the straight man to the comedic character of Hadrian.  When escorting the young prince Alric they get their best interactions as Alric is the standard spoiled prince character which is excellent.  They both have the chance to give this prince a chance to grow up which makes what could have been a very standard character into something great.  Yes his isn’t in much of the second book, though I suppose that there will be some development with Alric in the back four books.  When Sullivan mentioned that he was intending to build up the world slowly over the course of six books which is something you can see in the first two.  The end of Avempartha in particular hints that there are elves in this world which may be coming out of the woodwork against the racist humans which makes for an interesting little thread, especially as the monster is something created to destroy humanity which had been imprisoned for one thousand years.  It makes the two books feel incredibly different even if they still work as two halves of one cohesive whole.  The end point does have the issue of being just that, a stopping point, and not necessarily a good ending.

 

Overall, Theft of Swords is perhaps best described as a classic fantasy story with a modern writing style.  The story itself is straight out of the works of Tolkien, the writing style is completely modern with the brotherhood between Hadrian and Royce together being worth the book’s price tag.  This is a book which does suffer from being two novels put into one as they lead into one another and the weaker worldbuilding makes this less than one of the greats, but it isn’t one that should be discounted and has the potential to be great.  7/10.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Ancestor Cell by: Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole

 

Lawrence Miles created Faction Paradox with an intention to write stories involving the mythic War in Heaven against the future Enemy of the Time Lords.  The earliest seeds of Grandfather Paradox were seeded in Christmas on a Rational Planet before Alien Bodies and Interference setup just what Faction Paradox is doing with the theft of the Doctor’s biodata, allowing Laura Tobin to become Compassion, and killing the Third Doctor on Dust.  Since The Blue Angel and The Shadows of Avalon, Compassion has become a TARDIS and is being forced into becoming the template for the rest of the sentient TARDIS’s.  This was meant to be a long story arc, but as Stephen Cole left the range editor and Justin Richards took over, Lawrence Miles vowed never to write for Doctor Who again, a promise which he broke by writing for Big Finish Productions as well as writing The Adventuress of Henrietta Street.  To wrap up the Faction Paradox and the Compassion arc, leaving editor Stephen Cole teamed up with Peter Anghelides to write The Ancestor Cell, a book determined to end this particular era of the Eighth Doctor Adventures and bring in the new team, finishing up the Faction Paradox and human TARDIS storylines.  This had the potential to be a complete disaster as it’s taking several threads and bringing them to a close all in one book.  The book also may have one of the higher word counts for the Eighth Doctor Adventures, with the text being smaller than the standard to keep the page count to the approximate 280 pages of a BBC Books.

 

The Ancestor Cell sees the Doctor, Fitz, and Compassion split up with Compassion captured by the Time Lords, the Doctor by Romana, and Fitz taken by Faction Paradox.  There is a bone flower growing in space out of the Doctor’s original TARDIS and Romana is attempting to win the War with the Enemy at all costs.  Anghelides and Cole essentially take a Lawrence Miles style story and write it in the practical style of say a Target novelization making this an interesting read to say the least.  There are also several horrific images such as spiders made of bone and the degradation of Fitz Kreiner into Father Kreiner.  Fitz’s brainwashing by Faction Paradox is something incredibly slow over the course of the book and is really only saved by Compassion coming in and being compassionate.  There is quite a lot of body horror and the voice of Father Kreiner is one of this jaded man, mad with power and an incredibly devious mind.  Kreiner blames the Doctor for leaving him to die on the planet Dust, bringing back the fact that the version of Fitz we have seen is actually a clone.  The modifications to Fitz throughout the book to slowly influence him into getting to become Father Kreiner.  This becomes incredibly apparent when Fitz and Compassion have their final moment with the now amnesiac Doctor in the ruins of the destroyed Gallifrey.  This is actually Compassion’s final story which makes it interesting as she doesn’t always appear throughout, but it makes her entrances into the plot and her contribution is her best appearance.  This is the book that makes me actually really like where Compassion has been going and ends up here.

 

The reappearance of Romana III here is also incredibly important to make her a War Queen of Nine Gallifreys, each of which is slowly destroyed as several timelines clash.  Romana blames the Doctor for starting the war, with the many Time Lord supporting characters having their own sense of madness which contributes to Romana’s madness.  What makes things the most interesting is the flashes of the old Romana which are included here and there give the cold President something human and the flashes.  Meanwhile Grandfather Paradox works as a cold and dark reflection against the Doctor, as a figure that the Doctor may be destined to become if he gives into the Faction.  The Doctor is perhaps the most distraught as he loses everything and the climax where he is responsible for starting the War and ending Gallifrey, all while losing his memory is absolutely beautiful.  Yes it has become a joke that the Eighth Doctor gets amnesia, but this is one of the few times where it has actual repercussions for future books.  The Eighth Doctor is also at his most sympathetic as he just finds himself broken at the end of this book.  There is an issue with the conclusion not really allowing him to react and respond, as well as essentially ending on a conversation.

 

Overall, The Ancestor Cell somehow manages to be a brilliant novel out of two authors who previously failed to entirely impress, making something great.  This deals with the destruction of Gallifrey in one of those stories where it actually feels important, giving some emotional closure to the story arc and prepares to usure in something new.  9/10.

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Dresden Files: Dead Beat by: Jim Butcher

 

Being completely honest, Blood Rites nearly made me stop reading The Dresden Files, at least for the time being, however, as everything I had heard about the next one was praising the improvements and the general fan consensus that Blood Rites is the weakest installment, I decided to give Dead Beat one chance to improve.  I was in for a treat when this novel turned out to be the best that The Dresden Files has had to offer thus far, in a book which builds its tension as it builds to the first climax that actually feels like the possible end of the world will come to pass.  There is also necromancy performed on Chicago’s most famous dinosaur, so if that doesn’t sell you on that as a scene which does occur in the book to just see how this could possibly happen, I don’t know what will.  Butcher actually plays a bait and switch with Dead Beat, the title clearly alluding to the idea of a deadbeat dad, which is not actually about Harry Dresden’s father, who is simply dead.  Yes there is an appearance from his father in a dream sequence and there is a theme of being cut off from family, this is the first book where Thomas Raith is cut off and living with Harry in his tiny apartment, but Dead Beat is literally about three necromancers each going after an ancient text from a German necromancer, as well as Harry being tasked to find it by Black Court vampire Mavra.  Of course Harry is only brought in because he is being blackmailed so that his closest friend, Karrin Murphy (who spends the book on vacation which is interesting for Harry’s development).

 

This is the first book where Butcher’s several subplots actually all feel connected, at least since the third novel, as every subplot is looking for the same thing, meaning that the connections are there from the start.  Yes there are investigations done by Harry which aren’t directly involved in finding the book, especially as it moves to Harry attempting to stop the necromancers from succeeding and even getting the White Council in on the action.  As this is a book which is a ride from start to finish, it’s actually surprising that the character depth here is really well done.  Thomas and Harry’s relationship which has developed has gone to an actual brotherly relationship.  That reveal in Blood Rites that they are brothers actually gets redemption here as they have these brilliant back and forth interactions where while Thomas has his own problems in keeping down a job (which contains slight cringe due to Thomas being a White Court vampire) and unable to actually contribute.  They also have to deal with Mouse, the dog from the previous book which has grown to a massive size and is actually as intelligent as a person and is adorable.  This trio kind of acts like a family unit which feels like a development for Harry especially as he really hasn’t gotten to have a family at this point in his life, like at all.  Thomas also has this great sense of humor throughout the book.

 

Dead Beat also sees the reappearance of mortician Waldo Butters, who is essentially forced into the magical world here and the way that Butcher writes the character is interesting, to say the least.  Butters has that scientific mind which attempts to rationalize the magic and has those points where he actually ends up being a brave addition.  He is a self-professed coward, but that actually isn’t accurate as the brand of cowardice is more common sense and there is a point where Butters saves Harry from a fire, putting his own life on the line to save him.  There is also something great about Harry’s actions in picking up the Denarius coming back with the demon Lasciel continuously tempting him (and a reappearance of the Dark Harry from Fool Moon), though that plotline is perhaps more setup for future novels and a question about what Harry’s morals actually are on a personal level.

 

Overall, Dead Beat is one of the best books in The Dresden Files, giving readers the first chance to see just what they can become.  There are still a few issues, mainly with Murphy essentially being sidelined so Harry can realize that he is actually jealous and might have feelings for her, but the progression here from the necromancy, to Harry becoming a Warden, to everything else in the book makes this genuinely great.  8/10.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Ark in Space by: Robert Holmes directed by: Rodney Bennett

 

The Ark in Space stars Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan with Wendy Williams as Vira and Kenton Moore as Noah and the Wirrn.  It was written by: Robert Holmes and directed by: Rodney Bennett with Robert Holmes as Script Editor and Philip Hinchcliffe as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 25 January to 15 February 1975 on BBC1.

 

The start of Season 12 included the final story under producer Barry Letts, who before his run had already directed a serial during Patrick Troughton’s run, The Enemy of the World, and essentially led the show through 1974, leaving after Robot and the end of the eleventh production block and handing it over to Philip Hinchcliffe.  Hinchcliffe was entirely new to the program, working closely with script editor and writer Robert Holmes to craft their 22 episode block, splitting it into five stories: three four part stories, one six part story, and one two part story.  The two-part story coming about only because Hinchcliffe and Holmes made the decision to decrease the number of six part stories to a single story per season, something which would become the norm until the end of Season 17 and the dismissal of six part stories overall.  This meant that in crafting the season the initial plans for production block 4B had to be split into 4B and 4C, in production a two-part story followed by a four part story, however their running order would be switched.  A further cost saving measure would commission serial 4D, what would be the season finale, to be set on the same space station sets of serial 4C.  The story was originally commissioned by Letts, Space Station by Christopher Langley in late 1973, however within five months Hinchcliffe and Holmes found that these scripts would be unusable.  Holmes turned to John Lucarotti who had penned three serials during William Hartnell’s time as the Doctor and commissioned The Ark in Space.

 

The Ark in Space under Lucarotti would have been a similar, yet surprisingly different story from what eventually was seen on screen.  Lucarotti’s scripts were similar in that they involved a space ark containing the last of humanity invaded by a parasitic alien, though this time it would be a fungus which was impervious to harm and multiplied rapidly.  These scripts would be abandoned due to transportation of the scripts from Corsica where Lucarotti lived, to the production office and the need for quick rewrites.  Script editor, Robert Holmes, would receive special permission to take over writing duties with Lucarotti losing credit, but being paid in full for his work.  Holmes’ story is entirely studio bound and was assigned along with 4B to Rodney Bennett in the first two of three serials of which he would contribute direction.  Bennett’s direction is perhaps a highlight as The Ark in Space could easily have become a serial famous for Doctor Who’s inability to subtly light sets, especially as Space Station Nerva is built with stark white walls, but the simple decision to start with the power off when the TARDIS arrives means that there is enough atmosphere built up through that first episode which lasts once the power is on.  There are also quite a few sets, especially below decks as it were, which are kept mostly in the dark without the white walls.  There are also some shots done from the overhead allowing some forced perspective in the cryogenics chamber to make it feel taller than it actually is.

 


The Wirrn themselves are already an interesting idea for a villain, something that Big Finish and the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels would use in future stories.  Having an alien species of essentially refugees makes them sympathetic, even if they take over a man and essentially wish to use the rest of humanity while each of the cliffhangers take advantage of the parasitic nature of the Wirrn.  The first is of the dead queen which entered the Ark in the past, the second being the character of Noah’s hand being taken over, while the third is Noah being completely taken over.  This makes for an exciting escalation of stakes as the first half of the story is allowed to deal with the awakening of humanity while the Wirrn remains a mostly off-screen threat, with the paranoia being directed at the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry Sullivan as the interlopers in their carefully made plans.  The Wirrn transformations themselves have mostly aged pretty well, however, between the end of Part Two and Part Three there is copious use of bubble wrap to represent the transformation, though that wouldn’t have necessarily been well in use by the public at the time.  It also doesn’t look as cheap while Kenton Moore’s performance is selling losing his mind to this alien creature.

 

While Barry Letts was responsible for setting up most of this season, the eventual decision to have Robert Holmes writing this serial allows for the new team to make their mark.  Holmes’ script already plays to the strengths of Baker, Sladen, and Marter.  Tom Baker’s Doctor here already overcomes whatever shortcomings were in Robot being essentially a Jon Pertwee story, dialing up the charm with the mania while berating Harry for his poor decisions on his very first spaceship and caring for Sarah Jane.  Baker gets one of his iconic moments in this story, giving a speech on the persistent nature of humanity and there is a famous moment where the Doctor uses minor cruelty as a motivator to get Sarah Jane through the vents.  Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan is essentially the audience insert character here, allowing viewers to ease their way into the gothic horror that this serial establishes for the new era as the newest companion.  Harry also shines perhaps at the detriment for Sarah Jane, who for the first half is sadly sidelined in places, though the second half allows Elisabeth Sladen to shine as well.  While Kenton Moore’s Noah makes a great villain, the Ark’s crew is supported mostly through Vira, played by Wendy Williams, who plays the role as this very cold and clinical scientist.  Holmes makes the humans of the future feel genuinely aliens to the way that people behave, as Vira and Noah are concerned about their genetic purity as they are responsible for repopulating an empty Earth.

 

Overall, The Ark in Space has all the makings of a classic Doctor Who story, bringing in a new production team with their own goals by putting to life a fantastic script.  This is a story that looks excellent in its restoration as well, being mostly on videotape so while the Blu-ray isn’t true HD, it is a consistent viewing experience like much of Season 12.  While some of the effects may not hold up on modern day viewing, the performances sell a script about the remnants of humanity living on and waking up after disaster to another possible extinction event.  This is a classic story which New Series fans can take delight in as an entry point into the classic series, and those who haven’t seen it in a while can perhaps delight in the Blu-ray release giving it new life.  9/10.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Heart of TARDIS by: Dave Stone

 

Dave Stone is a writer who often has this air of being ungodly clever with his books in an attempt to be funny and that’s kind of what Heart of TARDIS entirely is.  Prominently displaying the Second and Fourth Doctors on the cover with some abstract timeline and the TARDIS at the center, there really isn’t any cover which can prepare a reader for the absolute trip one undergoes reading this book.  Essentially Stone writes two novels which are interconnected by the theme of time, Time Lord intervention, and an obsession with the idea of continuity.  The Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria find themselves in a midwestern town in the USA where they become suspects in a series of brutal murders while the Fourth Doctor and Romana are taken away from their quest for the Key to Time by a Time Lord agent of the High Council against an enemy threatening Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT, and the whole universe.  Like every other Stone novel which I have read, Heart of TARDIS is dense, boasting two distinct plotlines that all nearly collide while the main enemy, Continuity and the Jarakabeth, make their evil plans for the Doctor.  Stone’s book is also fairly slow going in terms of pace, it takes about 80 pages for the Fourth Doctor to actually get involved in his plot while the Second Doctor had already been accused of the murders.  The ending is also equally slow, ending nearly 20 pages before the book actually concludes as Stone includes an appendix essentially to attempt to squeeze as many jokes out of the premise.

 

As this is a book of two halves, that is how it should be discussed, starting with the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria’s half.  This is the weak half of the book and is one that is incredibly difficult to read, especially if like me your familiarity with the pop culture phenomenon of The Simpsons is only through cultural osmosis.  Stone essentially sets half of the book in Springfield from The Simpsons with several characters having their serial numbers filed off in the style of E.L. James form the work of Stephanie Meyer (which I have not read).  Bringing up an author like James is not a good sign for the book as Stone, while cleverly building up ideas and commentary on those fans obsessed with continuity, just gets lost in a plot for this Doctor which does not really amount to anything outside of some explanations for what actually is going on.  The start of the plot, mainly the scenes with the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria in the TARDIS, are actually really good and the characters are well characterized, but as soon as they step out, they somehow become generic.

 

This is infuriating as Stone opens the book thanking those with whom he consulted to ensure the Second Doctor at least had a decent characterization.  Victoria is the one who perhaps gets the best characterization, as Stone does nail the idea of her being a little orphan girl alone in the universe, though this may be because much of the book spends time in her headspace.  There are several attempts at fish out of water humor with Victoria throughout, however, those actually come across more as creepy and Stone seems to revert her back in places to the stereotypical screaming companion archetype which isn’t actually accurate to her as a character.  There is at least one reference that actually works, and that’s doing a chalkboard gag right in the epilogue with Jamie and his tendency to stab people and monsters.

 

The Fourth Doctor and Romana’s plotline is actually sublime.  Stone clearly has a joy in writing this particular TARDIS team, capturing the spirit of the Graham Williams era while still stylistically having Stone’s style right at the forefront.  The story, almost like The Banquo Legacy, is told from an outsider’s perspective, Katherine Delbane, a woman living a normal life, a boring life, and slowly being entangled with UNIT.  The Brigadier and Sergeant Benton appear here and their interactions with Delbane, the Doctor, and especially Romana, are absolutely wonderful.  Benton is clearly a character whom Stone loves, as the lovable Sergeant is given quite a bit of backstory and an interesting skillset as he’s the one at points to go and help save the day.  The Brigadier and Benton reacting to Romana is also an interesting reflection on the characterization of the ice queen as Stone captures Tamm’s upper class airs and graces from The Ribos Operation, although this is supposed to occur after The Stones of Blood.  The actual villains are explained here as well which feels purely like something out of Douglas Adams in City of Death.  It’s also dripping with tension and the standard Stone madness throughout the book making this half make up for the lackluster other half it is sadly interspersed with.

 

Overall, Heart of TARDIS is one of those absolutely dense Dave Stone books that is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but it does somehow manage to have half of its page count be absolutely terrible while the other is absolutely brilliant.  The brilliance and commentary on Doctor Who fans in particular here is also enough to just allow the good to outweigh the bad, but other readers may end up disagreeing depending on their tolerance for Stone and his style.  As it stand’s it’s a decent read.  6/10.

Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons by: Terrance Dicks

 

Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons was written by Terrance Dicks, based on Terror of the Autons by: Robert Holmes.  It was the 14th story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

Terror of the Autons is one of those television stories that people either love or hate.  It’s the introduction of the companion most associated with Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, Jo Grant, and the introduction of the Master.  It is also another story by Robert Holmes and lays the groundwork for a lot of what the next four years of the show were going to be, however, the production of the serial showed producer and director Barry Letts’ penchant for using colour separation overlay in areas where it perhaps was unnecessary.  This makes listening to the audiobook version of the story, Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons, a very different and almost more engaging experience.  Terrance Dicks provides the adaptation and while not taking the chance to expand upon much (though there is much made of the Time Lord being part of the tribunal responsible for exiling the Doctor to Earth in The War Games and there is a sense that the Time Lords were just using the Doctor as a scapegoat), but the lackluster special effects are updated through the prose.  The cover prominently displays the Nestene seen at the climax of the story, not as shimmering light with vague limbs, but as a giant octopus alien being similar to the tentacled mass from Spearhead from Space, something that Dicks delivers on as it acts more like a kaiju in this version, nearly bringing the radio telescope to the ground.  The doll which comes to life and kills Mr. Farrell is also given a much better sequence as Dicks’ prose builds upon horror tropes and the CSO kitchen is nowhere in sight.  It helps build tension and a little background to the fear and care of Farrell and his wife help bring that together.  The Master here is also interesting as he appears to have a more catty relationship with the Doctor which is what it would develop into throughout Pertwee’s run, but wasn’t actually present in the first few serials making an interesting change.  Geoffrey Beevers’ narration also gives the Master here that silky voice which isn’t Delgado, but makes him just as much as a threat.

 

Overall, Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons might actually be the superior version of an already brilliant story, taking away the poorer aspects of the production and being narrated by someone who puts evil into the Master.  10/10.