Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Shadowmind by: Christopher Bulis: The Mind of a Child in the Body of a God

Shadowmind is the debut novel of Christopher Bulis who had no prior writing experience.  Now that’s fine if the story you write can grab your attention by the front cover or back blurb.  Shadowmind doesn’t as the cover is generic and the blurb is forgettable so that’s two strikes against the novel already for being a success.  Also there is the fact that not many people discuss this novel when talking about the Virgin New Adventures, so I was a little bit worried going in from the start.  Luckily the novel surprised me with how shockingly creative the plot and story ideas were.  The plot is extremely creative with a planet previously thought uninhabited is actually home to one gestalt entity which is warring amongst itself for control and each side has been using human colonists as a way to fight the war.  This war has been capturing the humans and using duplicates of them as ways to fight and gather intelligence on Earth, which one side wants to use to ask for help while the other side wants to use for evil purposes.  The icing on the cake however is that the evil faction has the mind of a child which gets extremely entertaining by the end of the novel.


Bulis does something special in this novel by actually focusing on the Doctor, Ace and Benny as they partake directly in the unfolding events.  This allows the Doctor to namedrop his exploits with UNIT and against the Master in his third incarnation as he is working closely with the government to figure out what exactly been going on.  While it isn’t bad when the Doctor isn’t directly in the events this makes a refreshing change from what the last few novels have been giving us.  Bulis also does some great things with Ace as she is rescued by the Shenn, the gestalt entity of the novel, about halfway through and we get a lot of character development with her as she explains humanity to this entity.  We also get to see into the mind of Ace and see how she views herself.  She thinks that she’s a hardened soldier who can kill but when seeing mangled bodies she cracks, which is when we get to see her vulnerabilities come out a little bit more than they have than in the past.  Benny on the other hand isn’t nearly as lucky as she is again sidelined during this novel and when she gets a moment she is a bit too whiny.  It reads like it’s trying to be the sarcastic Benny we know and love, but it comes across like a child.  There is a bit about how she views her father which is one of the few things I liked about the portrayal.


The side characters also don’t fare much better as they don’t really make an impact other than the Shenn and the villain, Umbra.  You have a lot of military personnel but they don’t do much and some are only there to die or force Ace to show some vulnerability.  Also for no real reason Bulis has a lot of the duplicates be in the nude for a large bit of the novel including Ace.  It doesn’t get in the way much, but it is often slipped in for no real reason except to try and bring to mind the image of naked women.  With that out of the way the villain of the story is amazing as the petulant child who thinks that everything is its toy.  It’s a real shame that it doesn’t show its face until the end because Bulis hit the gold with some of the comedy.  The climax also is really dragged out so it takes up more time when it could have been edited down quite a bit.  This is mainly due to some pages that are badly worded and some false hope slipped in.  With that in mind I have to give Shadowmind 70/100.  It would be higher but it really did need at least one more draft and less of the nudity for nudity’s sake.  At least it doesn’t get in the way for too much of the novel’s length and can be looked past if you’re good at ignoring things.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

White Darkness by: David A. McIntee: Island of the Living Dead

Zombies and Doctor Who are two topics that really have never mixed which is odd as Doctor Who has often gone into classic movie monsters.  They’ve tackled vampires, werewolves, even Frankenstein’s monster, yet never zombies.  The closest things we’ve gotten were the haemovores from The Curse of Fenric, but those were closer to vampires than zombies.  This wouldn’t remain the status quo after David A. McIntee’s debut novel which sees the Doctor face zombies in Haiti during World War I, but that is only beginning.  White Darkness also officially brings the Great Old Ones as created by H. P. Lovecraft into the world of Doctor Who after a lot of implications of their involvements.  Yet with these monstrosities in the story, McIntee doesn’t go with a horror story for the focus of the novel, opting for an espionage style story in the same vain as stories like The Ambassadors of Death and The Mind of Evil, with the alien threat in the background for most of the run time.  This is actually a stroke of genius from McIntee as that makes the story feel like a cross between two of my favorite stories, The Curse of Fenric and The Ambassadors of Death.


The plot involves the Doctor being stressed in the aftermath of Deceit and Lucifer Rising so he takes Ace and Benny to Haiti for a vacation, but there have been horrible murders in the streets and there are German spies afoot topped off with Cthulhu rearing his ugly head (although not really by name) and the story is a fast paced story.  A lot of the plot is shrouded in mystery and the trio of companions eventually get split up.  This allows Benny to really get a chance to shine in the story after Deceit and Lucifer Rising had her more to the sidelines to focus on Ace.  She does what any good companion should do and gets herself captured to allow the plot to go in an actual direction after a bit of meandering around with no real aim.  I also really like her dynamic with Ace as they both are a bit on edge after Ace’s betrayal in Lucifer Rising  The supporting characters are also really interesting especially the human villains who include a character called Gilles LeMaitre who actually isn’t the Master, even with the translation of Master from French.  With that said he is an interesting villain only serving a higher officer who reveals himself near the end of the novel.  Also the last third of the novel is an extremely riveting read that is really easy to get through.  McIntee really knows how to write prose and I do look forward to the other novels he wrote for the series.  He uses a lot of symbolism for the characters here which are great especially the tarot cards and how the zombies are almost an allegory for soldiers in the war in Europe.


I do have some problems with this novel even with the praise that I give the thing.  First and foremost it takes a while to get going with a lot of the Doctor and company’s actions not really going towards anything.  Yes they’re supposed to be on vacation, but they’ve already found bodies in the street so they should be trying to find the killers and get Benny captured a lot sooner.  The revolution in Haiti that is depicted also sort of fades in and out of the narrative throughout and while I don’t actually know what happened in the rebellion I feel like it was more than we were presented with.  I also take issue with the way McIntee portrays the Seventh Doctor in that he isn’t the Seventh Doctor.  Yes he is undeniably the Doctor, as he fills all the character traits he never really feels manipulative or as if he is in control throughout the entire thing.  The Doctor had the opportunities to be like he was in The Curse of Fenric as he is facing a literal god even above the capabilities of the Time Lords.  Instead he comes off almost as if he is David Tennant trying to be Sylvester McCoy which doesn’t work.  Nevertheless I give White Darkness 75/100 continuing a chain of really good novels that I hope keeps up.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Husbands of River Song by: Steven Moffat directed by: Douglas Mackinnon: Off With His Head: A Pantomime

The Husbands of River Song was written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon, produced by Nikki Wilson.  The story stars Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Alex Kingston as River Song, Matt Lucas as Nardole, and Greg Davies as King Hydroflax.  The story was originally broadcast on 25 December 2015.

Now I haven’t reviewed any of the television series for this blog of mine which is a bit odd considering that the premise of this blog is Doctor Who Reviews.  After a month of writing reviews of the Virgin New Adventures it is time for me to dive into the television series with the annual tradition of the Christmas Special.  Now the Christmas Specials haven’t always been the best episodes of the series with some being some of the worst in years.  This year we were given a story called The Husbands of River Song which gave the fandom a groan as not many people like River Song especially recently.  With that said I went into this with pessimism even though I’m usually an optimist and I was pleasantly surprised with what we got.  It isn’t the best episode in the world, but it was mainly an alright story with a few moments of really funny bits that actually hit.  The way you need to look at this story is as a Christmas Pantomime for the majority of the run time which really works as a story.


The plot involves the Doctor, recovering from the loss of Clara Oswald, being mistaken for a surgeon who has been sent to operate on the husband of River Song, King Hydroflax, who is a genocidal maniac in the style of a Stephen Thorne performance.  The surgery requires retrieving the most valuable diamond in the world from the King’s head, but River wants to have the Doctor just cut off his head so the diamond can be retrieved and Hyroflax, who is a genocidal maniac, will be killed.  Also because of the thirteen lives rule for Time Lords, River doesn’t recognize her actual husband.  So the Doctor gets to be the companion for an episode while River ends up stealing the TARDIS so she can sell the diamond.  This takes the story to a starliner full of criminals where they end up selling the thing where by the end of it all the flaws of the story show their heads.


To get into the good bits of the story is how Peter Capaldi’s Doctor interacts with Alex Kingston’s River Song.  When River has no idea who the Doctor is she reveals that she has more than one husband, whom she doesn’t love, but uses it as a way to get what she wants.  She also has a tendency to steal the TARDIS to get her aims and doesn’t really care who gets hurt.  It’s a great performance between them especially with a lot of the visual gags.  When River realizes that the man she has been with is the Doctor they go on their last date as described in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead which is a really poignant scene.  It provides closure to their story arc even if the arc wasn’t the strongest over all.  The humor also is really on point for most of the episode.


With all this positivity there are still a lot of problems, mainly the supporting cast is boring.  I barely remember a thing about them and even with some creative designs they don’t leave a good impression.  The last ten minutes of the story also get really sappy but still try to infuse some comedy into the scenes which doesn’t work.  But still probably the best Christmas Special since A Christmas Carol in 2010 and from me it gets 60/100.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lucifer Rising by: Andy Lane & Jim Mortimore: I am Legion, We are Many

Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane are an odd pair of coauthors on their first book.  Through Big Finish I have heard Mortimore’s The Natural History of Fear which is great and Lane’s The Mahogany Murderers which is also great, but their styles in audio are drastically different with Mortimore using a lot of atmosphere and Lane keeping to a more traditional story.  Yet despite their differences there is no real distinction between the passages written by Mortimore and Lane throughout Lucifer Rising’s prose.  The novel reads really quickly despite its long length mainly due to the extremely compelling plot and characters.  I hear that this is one of the most highly regarded Virgin New Adventures, but I have to disagree as there are quite a few flaws within the compelling narrative.  This doesn’t mean that it isn’t good as it is, great in fact, it just isn’t as good as some of the other novels I’ve read recently.  But before I can get into the flaws of the novel I want to look at the best aspects of this really dark story.


Let’s start with the plot as even though it is just a base under siege style story it is able to use that story style to make the story extremely tense and terrifying.  Imagine The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, but if the horror was one hundred times more intense as one of the villains of the story turns out to be a being called Legion which is exists in seven dimensions which is a terrifying concept.  The plot sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny arriving at a space station in the Lucifer system where people have started dying mysteriously,  but the plot continues to thicken when IMC, the mining company from Colony in Space, come on the scene with evil plans as they usually have led by Legion.  There are creatures called Angels and everything is a massive plot to try and gain time travel through the Doctor by using Ace as their agent.  So yeah this story has a plot filled to the brim and what really suffers is the Angels as their portions of the plot are the vaguest which brings down the overall plot.  The plot with IMC however is the best as it tests the relationship even more between the Doctor and Ace, who again has had three years being hardened by Spacefleet.  Ace betrays the Doctor here and finally is able to tell him exactly what he has been doing to her and those around her.  She practically gives him a taste of his own medicine by the end of the novel.


Ace also gets some great scenes with the personnel on the base as when everything starts to fall apart before IMC arrives, Ace has to take charge and tries to keep everyone alive.  She fails at this as people do die, but her skills as a leader are really effective and showcase how much she has grown as a character since Love and War.  Benny however doesn’t fair as well as Ace did.  She isn’t out of character or anything, but is sidelined throughout most of the novel until the end where she plays a role in the climax.  She also gets some great scenes with Ace to build a relationship between them, but that’s about it.  It’s a real shame too as Benny is such a good character.  The supporting characters are all great as they all are introduced grieving for the death of one of their own and through that event we see them slowly pushed to their limits as people.


Even with these glowing praises towards the novel there are still quite a few problems with it.  Mainly its length is not good if you read it over a period of time like I did as I fell ill while in the middle of it so stopped for a few days.  This really shows there are too many characters in the story as some of them really don’t serve much of a purpose in their being there.  The plotlines of Lucifer and IMC and Legion all get a bit muddled and it takes way too long for them to be resolved.  The novel also has a slow uptake which while building atmosphere and characters had quite a few pages that could have been easily cut out.  Even with these flaws the novel is still really good and I would have to give it 78/100 as it is really good, but a bit overrated by some fans.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Deceit by: Peter Darvill-Evans: To the Late Night, Double Feature, Picture Show

If you look at the title of this review you may do a double take as it is a reference to a song about B-grade Science Fiction films of the 1950s, but Deceit is oddly similar in tone and characters to those types of movies.  There are mad scientists who have created organic monsters in the form of Pool, there is an unbelievable amount of over the top dialogue, there are damsels in distress in the form of Elaine heck, there is an over the top disaster in the form of the Arcadia system going towards explosion.  Heck there’s even a muscle bound action hero in the form of Dalek Killer Abslom Daak.   Yes I know Daak is a comic book character, but here Peter Darvill-Evans writes him as the stereotypical macho man to glorious effect.  He steals every scene he is in as the strong idiot especially when he interacts with the new Ace, but before I can get into that to really understand the story you need to get a sense of the plot of this novel.  Deceit involves the Doctor and Benny in the TARDIS where there is finally some closure from the Cat’s Cradle Trilogy where the damage to the TARDIS is finally resolved by the end of the novel through the experiments going on in the Arcadia system where an evil corporation taken from the Butler Institute from Cat’s Cradle: Warhead has created an evil supercomputer who wants to take over the universe through the TARDIS.


So yeah this is definitely a plot right up the alley of a B-movie from the 1950s, but that is really only the plot and a few of the character archetypes.  Darvill-Evans knows that in these novels you need to have good characters along with a good plot and all the characters are really well written.  You have the people of Arcadia who are stuck in medieval times while serving this supercomputer who has frankly insane demands.  The supercomputer plot is revealed really well as the twists are kept in the shadows for the first quarter of the novel where we hear the thoughts of Elaine, a young girl who is starving and slowly dying on the supercomputer’s orders.  She was taken from Francis, the Scribe, who is the archetype coward and it really is funny as he has to deal with Elaine’s torture and comes off as a real person in the story.  The computer’s servants are also great as their dialogue and the descriptions of their movements give off this otherworldly atmosphere that elevates it above your stereotypical hypnotized performance.  There are also a team of people from Starfleet as this takes place after the Dalek Wars where there are now Dalek Killers and we see exactly what happened to Ace after she stormed off at the end of Love and War.


This brings us to what fans have dubbed the New Ace, who has been hardened for three years fighting the Daleks.  As she is introduced here I quite like the new portrayal as it seems like a logical progression and I want to know how the authors are going to go with her new persona.  The scenes she has with the Doctor in the Zero Room are a special treat as the Doctor can’t really believe he’s seeing Ace again.  Her chemistry with Abslom Daak is also great as Daak is literally a walking stereotype and it is hilarious.  Even with the bits that I find comedic the novel is actually quite dark as there is horrific imagery involved in the novel much worse than the shocking image on the cover which reveals what the computer is made of.


What is the highlight of the novel is Professor Bernice Summerfield who is probably the most entertaining here as she has ever been.  Darvill-Evans gets Benny’s sarcasm and cynical nature down pat and you really feel her anger when she discovers Elaine all tied up.  There are however a few problems with the novel in the department of pacing.  The pace at the beginning and the ending doesn’t really have a consistent speed that I couldn’t really get behind.  The beginning isn’t that bad, it’s just really long winded, but enjoyable all the same.  The end is the really bad bit with some stuff stuffed in the novel to meet a page quota.  I will say that the Appendix at the end is great outlining the Second Dalek War and a nice few pages from Darvill-Evans about the goals of the New Adventures which are great fun and promise for more great upcoming adventures.  So despite its flaws Deceit is a great novel that I gladly give a 95/100 as the flaws in pacing don’t detract that much from the story and it is really refreshing after The Pit made me want to stop reading.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Pit by: Neil Penswick: Tyger, Tyger Burning Dim

I have heard that The Pit is the worst of the Virgin New Adventures and while I cannot confirm this fact as I’ve only read up to The Pit, I will confirm that it is definitely the worst novel so far.  This is Neil Penswick’s only novel and after a Google search I cannot find any information on this author’s other work.  His page on the TARDIS Wikia only says that he wrote The Pit and nothing else about him.  Judging by the way The Pit is written I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the only thing that Penswick actually wrote as it has no sense of how to tell a good story.  The sentences are extremely short and they don’t flow from one to another.  The characters are generic with two being basically the same character with two different names and the plot is no more than a lot of random events strung together by threads.


I recently saw an anime review by Glass Reflections where a point was made that the events of a story should be connected by the words but and therefore, not the word and.  This is because it indicates conflicts and solutions to those conflicts while the word and makes events unrelated, yet connected for no reason.  To exemplify this I’m going to compare the basic plot of this novel to the plot of An Unearthly Child Part One.  The plot of An Unearthly Child goes like so:


Barbara and Ian are ordinary teachers, but they are worried about one of their students, Susan, who is good at some things but awful at others, therefore they decide to follow her to her home.  But, her address is a junkyard, therefore they follow her inside, but only find a Police Box and an old man, therefore they want to leave to get the authorities, but they hear Susan’s voice from inside the Police Box, therefore they break inside, but it is actually a spaceship, therefore they have solved the mystery, but the old man won’t let them leave, therefore they are abducted into time and space.  As you can see the plot is a chain of cause and effect that can be easily linked together.  The plot of The Pit goes a little differently.


Without giving too much away at once, The Doctor and Benny go to a planet and there is an experiment going on and shapeshifters and poet William Blake has been teleported and the Doctor and William Blake get transported into a parallel dimension and Benny meets some androids and there is a research team and a guy who may be the Tenth Doctor if you subscribe to a fan theory and a Time Lord called Kopyion and the planet explodes and everyone dies.  So you can see exactly how nothing is really connected and the plot just sort of happens and resolves itself with any involvement from the Doctor.


No the real hero of the story is Kopyion who is a Time Lord who really is the only person to have anything to do with the plot.  He is supposed to be what the Time Lords were in The War Games but is really just a Mary Sue.  He does everything to perfection and doesn’t seem to have any flaws to his character.  He created the entire situation of this planet and these shapeshifters performing experiments on people for no real reason.  He doesn’t want to trap the Doctor or anything and doesn’t have any clear cut motivations and doesn’t even know what he is trying to do.  This is the same for all the characters as none of them have any clear cut motivations for what they do.  The only motivation I can think of is survival of the fittest, but that was done a lot better in Survival with Ace’s friends because they had personalities.  There are even two androids who serve the same purpose and when one ends up dying the other takes over.  This is until the other one that was dead comes back to life near the end for no real reason except to moan about slowly dying.


Bernice Summerfield also gets the bad character treatment as she is basically a nonentity in the story, contributing very little to the plot except getting the Doctor to go to these doomed planets to begin with.  It hurts even more considering the opening pages with the Doctor and Benny musing over the little ideas that popped into Benny’s head getting them to the planets.  Once they get to the planet the thread to the plot is dropped out of the blue which is when Benny becomes irrelevant for the rest of the plot until the very end when she becomes the only person talking sense when the Doctor assists in genocide on the planet with Kopyion.  And that is something that even on his darkest days, the Doctor would never do.  While I’m on the subject of the Doctor, the way Penswick writes for him is unrecognizable as the Seventh Doctor.  He feels like a poor man’s version of the Second or maybe even Third Doctor for most of the run time and has nothing to do.


Classic British Poet William Blake also appears in this novel as a pseudo-companion to the Doctor, but he is also a non-entity and takes up even more space in a crowded novel.  All in all I have to give The Pit a 5/100 as it is an absolutely worthless novel that only has a few pages in the TARDIS that are easy to read.  It is really going to be difficult to surpass this novel, but who knows if that’s going to happen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #2: The Highest Science by: Gareth Roberts adapted by: Jacqueline Rayner directed by: Scott Handcock

The Highest Science stars Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor, Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield with Sineed Keenan as Rosheen, Daniel Brotlebank as Sheldukher, and Tom Bell as Fakrid and Jinkwa.  It was written by Gareth Roberts, adapted for audio by Jacqueline Rayner, and directed by Scott Handcock.  It was released in November 2014 by Big Finish.


While for one I’m glad that Big Finish decided to continue to adapt the Virgin New Adventures and Missing Adventures into audio dramas and The Highest Science is a great candidate.  This is mainly due to the amount of comedic elements in the novel that translate extremely well into audio.  While reading the novel you can get a sense for how the one-liners are meant to be delivered, but the audio adaptation allows for the comedy to really shine through and you can really get a sense for how absurd the Chelonians are as a concept.  You also get a better feel for how evil Sheldukher, the most evil person in the universe, actually is.  Daniel Brotlebank’s voice alone fleshes out the rather one note villain into a more vibrant personality.


The actual adaptation does a lot of the same things that the Love and War adaptation did, by slimming down the cast and nearly cutting out one of the subplots with the humans from 1990s Earth.  It really helps keep the story’s pace work in the audio medium by not trying to shove everything into the adaptation.  Rayner also does a bit of combining on characters which helps with the sheer number of characters in the original story.  I have to mention Lisa Bowerman in particular as she puts in a great performance as Bernice Summerfield even if her opening scenes were cut from the story, which works considering they were disjointed to begin with and didn’t really fit in with the end of Transit.


There are a few problems that come with the adaptation however, mainly coming over from the original novel.  The same ending is present with all of its problems of ripping off the end of The Hand of Fear.  The jumbled mess of a climax is still present in the adaptation but some of the elements are taken out.  Benny is no longer drugged during the end of the story which cuts out the Epilogue at the cost of some of the novel’s best comedic bits even if it wouldn’t have been the most appropriate for the listeners of Big Finish.  The Cell also has some changes as it is feminine and a bit less Marvin the Paranoid Android and much more sympathetic.  This isn’t really a bad change and actually works quite well.  Still as an adaptation it heavily improves upon the original novel and really is the definitive version of the story.  It gets an 80/100.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Highest Science by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who and the Space Turtles

To begin this review I am writing this short preface to just give a little sneak peek so to say on what exactly to expect from The Highest Science, mainly its secondary villains, summed up nicely into three very simple words.  The words go thusly: Cyborg Space Turtles.  Now if you have been following these reviews you will know that I despised Transit and I felt that these novels would go in this direction of making it really adult unnecessarily.  So imagine the jarring transition when Gareth Roberts introduces the Chelonians, or as I like to call them Cyborg Space Turtles, who are hilarious, has the guts to have a prophecy be written in the lyrics of a song mainly listened to by hippies, a disappearing planet, and the twist of The Hand of Fear.  Seriously Roberts goes crazy pulling off all the crazy to Douglas Adams levels of hilarity and only about half of it is played for comedy.  Oh and he puts the Doctor into a situation where he isn’t in control.  With this amount of crazy in the novel there will be at least something that you will find funny or at least enjoyable.


Now some of the problems that the writings of Douglas Adams is a lackluster plot and Roberts falls into this trap quite a bit.  It starts out promising enough with the Prologue and first couple chapters introducing four factions of characters.  First there are the Chelonians who have a really interesting culture as some of them are trying to give birth, but it begins to fail.  Second there are the cyber punk rocker hippies who believe a song shows what is going to happen on the planet while on brain-melting drugs.  Third there is Sheldukher who is the most dangerous criminal in the galaxy and fourth there is a group of humans from Earth in the 1990s.  What Roberts does best is keep these four factions distinct with different speech patterns and personalities.  This keeps most of them interesting, but some of them are just too bland to be very interesting.  The most interesting group is Sheldukher’s party as it is made up of criminals and a depressed organic supercomputer, the Cell.  Sheldukher isn’t very interesting as he is your typical loud mouthed crazy villain a la all the characters played by Stephen Thorne.


And of course the Doctor and Benny have to come in the story.  Basically the Doctor is tracking a time disturbance called a Fortean Flicker and catastrophe will strike if the flicker isn’t stopped.  They track it to the planet Sakkrat home of the Highest Science where all four parties are intersecting in the rest of the story’s plot.  The Doctor isn’t really in control throughout the story as the Flicker has an unpredictable nature so is the perfect villain for the Seventh Doctor.  My problem with this is that Roberts has him played as an earlier version of the character akin to Season 25.  Roberts does however completely understand the character of Bernice Summerfield as she was introduced in Love and War.  She is sarcastic and won’t take any talk back and has a wit to match the Doctor’s.  Their scenes are great together and are the best things about the story.  When she isn’t with the Doctor she is with the group of hippie-rocker faction.  Here she accidentally gets high off of an extremely powerful hallucinogen which is LSD combined with cocaine.  These bits are extremely hilarious as Benny’s brain starts to turn into goop and the Doctor has to use a Metabelis Crystal to fix her mind.  The Cell is probably the most interesting supporting the character as it is so depressed and determined to commit suicide it would go so far as to plan three years to get its chance.


Now if those were the best things about the story, the actual plot lets it down as near the middle it becomes a jumbled mess.  You can cut out the stuff with the people from 1990s Earth and probably get rid of some of the things with the Chelonians to a minimum.  Also the twist is just a poor copy of the twist of The Hand of Fear where everything is revealed to be a trap to capture Eldrad/Sheldukher.  It of course works and the story just stops with a nice Epilogue about Benny being cured of her drug ailments which has some poignant comments on some of the motivation of the guy who started this whole mess to begin with.  Everything is jumbled together and the twist you can see coming from miles away.  I really am forced to give the novel 65/100, but I still recommend it as the story is a great medication after the whole mess of Transit.  It is also much better than some of Roberts’ TV work on Doctor Who.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Transit by: Ben Aaronovitch: All Aboard the Intergalactic Express

When I first became a Doctor Who fan and heard about the Virgin New Adventures I was warned that they were for more of an adult audience.  I was also warned that the writers were not constrained by subject matter when they wrote a novel for the range.  I expected things of newer novelists but not Ben Aaronovitch.  Ben Aaronovitch is the writer of my favorite Doctor Who story, Remembrance of the Daleks, and the pretty good story Battlefield which were both not very adult, but had some darker underlying themes.  His first novel is Transit which had an idea that was originally going to be used for TV.  That idea was of an intergalactic subway system that travels to all planets of the solar system and has been corrupted by an evil computer.  The idea is a really sound one as it feels really imaginative and almost like something Douglas Adams would come up with if there was more comedy in the story.


Instead of a comedy romp however, Transit decides to go in the dark and gritty route with a dystopian society very similar to Andrew Cartmel’s future in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead.  That novel is also very similar to Transit in terms of plot as it sees the Doctor overthrow an evil government organization.  In this case it is a computer called Fred (Yeah no influence of Douglas Adams in the novel whatsoever) who has some files pertaining to time travel developed by new character Kadiatu Lethebridge-Stewart who is the illegitimate great-granddaughter of Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart.  Kadiatu is a great character who was harden despite a few problems I will get into later on in this review.  She honestly feels like a real person and deserves the name of Lethebridge-Stewart for the most part even if her origins are shaky.  I also like the genetic mutations that were forced on her to fight in a war with the Ice Warriors and to create time travel.  Aaronovitch really does her relationship with the Doctor well by making her the companion of the story.  They especially get some great dialogue with each other.  Aaronovitch also makes the Doctor a legend on Earth which is a really good idea, even going so far as to make the story Battlefield turned into an opera in a Wagnerian style.  We also see the return of the house on Allen Road and the mysterious silver cat which isn’t really a positive as it has no bearing on the plot.


If you notice, I’ve been trying to keep on the positive side of things for the first sections of the review as this book has some great bits in it.  However the book is one of the more controversial novels in the Virgin New Adventures range with many saying that it is the worst thing ever and others saying it is one of the best books ever.  I said it in the introduction saying that novelists didn’t have as many constraints on content and Aaronovitch uses this to the full. The novel goes for gritty cyberpunk but adds in vivid descriptions of prostitution and even has a character ejaculate into another’s mouth.  The sex levels in the novel are off the charts and I really don’t like it.  Now this may be seem a bit hypocritical as I was fine with the romance in Love and War, but the problems with the sex is the presentation.  In Love and War, it was all about the emotion of the characters and was really vague on the details.  Here it is all the raw physical action and gritty realism.  It feels like Aaronovitch is trying to work through some sort of issue here.  The Doctor also acts out of character by getting himself drunk with Kadiatu at one point which is an unintentionally funny scene.  There is also some obscene language in the novel which goes so far as to use the word f*** ten times (Yes I censored the word, just take a guess on what it is).  I don’t mind cursing but the amount of vulgarity in the novel was just ridiculous.


These aren’t the only problems with the novel as Aaronovitch writes at a snail’s pace with extremely long chapters that turn a nights reading into a slog to get through.  He also doesn’t have much of a story once the climax hits and everything gets really confusing.  The plot gets further lost as some sequences of events are told out of order.  He also has a problem with the characterization which is odd considering how strong and memorable the television characters are.  Here the supporting characters are one-note and really could be switched out with each other as their impact could be done by one character.


He also doesn’t really know how to write for the character of Bernice Summerfield as she is extremely mean in the novel.  Yes she wasn’t the nicest in Love and War, but it was all sarcasm and flippancy there.  Here she is violent to the point of slapping a child to get answers.  She almost feels like she would be better if she was switched out for Ace, even if for the story she is possessed by Fred.  It almost feels like what happened to Steven in Galaxy Four where he got all Barbara’s lines happened here.  It gets a little more bearable near the end but not by much.  So yeah this really wasn’t the novel for me and just is an unbearable read.  All in all I am forced to give it a 30/100 for really not feeling right even for an edgier Doctor Who story.  What is nice is that there really aren’t any ramifications to the Doctor’s actions so the novel can be skipped.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #1: Love and War by: Paul Cornell adapted by: Jacqueline Rayner directed by: Gary Russell

Before I begin this review let me preface this with the note that it will be a miniseries on the adaptations of Doctor Who Novels.  They will have a product information at the beginning of them and will not necessarily be my 500 word minimum, but no less than 250 words.

Love and War stars Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace with James Redmond as Jan Rydd, Bernard Holley as Brother Phaedrus and Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield.  It was written by Paul Cornell, adapted for audio by Jacqueline Rayner, directed by Gary Russell and released in October 2012 through Big Finish.

The audio adaptation of Love and War is interesting in that it is Big Finish’s first real foray into the territory of the Virgin Novels that include the Doctor.  Yes they adapted the novels Birthright and Just War as audio dramas with Bernice Summerfield deleting the Doctor from the story, but those novels were Doctor light anyway.  To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the character, Big Finish decided to adapt the first appearance of the character originally written by Paul Cornell into a full cast audio drama.  Jacqueline Raynor did the adapting into audio form and she really knows how to adapt.  There are very few differences in this adaptation from the original novel.  The main one is toning down the romance, which works for the best as the Big Finish audience does range from really young to adults and cutting out the military and library scenes.  While I liked those scenes they could easily have been cut from the novel.  The introduction of Jan is slightly different as they really couldn’t do it on an audio format.  The relationship between Ace and Jan isn't even toned down very much, but is just less explicitly stated.

What the audio drama does even better is the reaction of Ace to the Doctor’s manipulation as Sophie Aldred’s emotion can’t really be felt as much in writing.  The audio also adapts the Doctor Who Magazine Prologue which is also great as it brings back Charlie Hayes back to play Death.  The Hoothi are also even more graphic as you hear the squelching and explosions of the fungus.  Christopher is probably the best he could ever have been, they have him played by a woman, but her voice was pretty deep and was digitally altered to sound more emotionless, as Christopher can't really feel love or many emotions.  He is on a higher plane of psychic existence so it makes a lot of sense to be more emotionless.  This is definitely the superior version of the novel, and if you can’t find the original novel for a good price then purchase this from Big Finish as it is just as good as the original novel.  I have to give it the same rating I gave the novel, a 100/100, as it hits the right notes as the novel and even does things better simply because of its medium.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Love and War by: Paul Cornell: All's Fair

Well after loving Paul Cornell’s previous work Timewyrm: Revelation, I was looking forward to reading his next novel Love and War.  Love and War is probably most well remembered for introducing us to the Seventh Doctor’s next companion, Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield, archeologist extraordinaire.  Already, Bernice is an extremely well fleshed out character.  She is extremely intelligent, clever and knows how to have a good time.  She gets way too drunk for a professor of archeology and names a door after the colleague who found it, before blowing it up to get into an inner chamber.  I’m extremely impressed with her first outing and am looking forward to more of her in the future.


Love and War is a very apt title for this novel as half of the story is taken up by the love story of Ace and the Traveler Jan and the other half is taken up with the War on Heaven against the Hoothi.  The main story is prodded after the funeral of Ace’s friend Julian when the Doctor remembers he has to find a specific book on the planet of Heaven.  Of course he is secretly planning to take on the Hoothi, a fungoid species which are pretty much the alien from The Thing.  The Hoothi infect people with their spores and are hidden in their minds until they are needed when the host dies and explodes into a fungal mass.  They are creatures from the Dawn of Time which the Doctor must face.  The war breaks out quickly as people on the planet are converted into Hoothi.  Pretty much every character dies in the end of this with the exception of the Doctor, Ace and Bernice and a few others surviving to see another day.


Ace gets to have a love interest in Jan who is one of the members of the Travelers, a group of galactic Hobos who have out of body experiences in an area of virtual space called Puterspace.  It’s an old idea but Cornell uses Puterspace to great effect here.  Jan is also a great character as he had been experimented on by a government organization in the army during the Dalek War of the 26th Century.  They have some great chemistry and Jan’s eventual fate is extremely devastating, even if he was the one who saved the day.  Their love also leads nicely into the War on heaven as the Hoothi invade Puterspace.


The other Travelers are also very interesting characters with their own distinct personality and backstory, each being physically or psychologically broken in some way.  As I mentioned Jan has been experimented so he is pyro-kinetic and has had an inflated ego as he tries to prove his own bravery.  His closest friend is Christopher who was also experimented upon even more than Jan and has been rendered genderless.  With the loss of gender Christopher is forced to rely on logic and an increased intelligence as the Travelers’ priest.  The priestess of the Travelers is Maire who ends up betrothing Ace with Jan.  Her damage is that she has been traumatized by the Daleks and keeps Dalek guns and eyestalks as she was a Dalek killer.  The final Traveler of note is Roisa whose damage is that she was Jan’s previous lover before she was ditched for Ace.  She is the first to be infected and it is really all her fault that everything happened.  Bernice even has her own bit of psychological damage as her mother was killed by a Dalek when going to get Bernice’s doll and her father has disappeared in mysterious circumstances.


The Church of the Vacuum is also extremely interesting as their human head Phaedrus has his own issues with his mother and has an interesting parallel with Ace.  Yes on top of the development of Ace’s love life we get development on the relationship with her mother Audrey in Puterspace.  Audrey is really sympathetic as she really did want the best for Ace but couldn’t really figure out how to do it.  We also find out that while dying of radiation poisoning at the end of Planet of the Spiders, the Doctor took more than just “the long way round” and spent a decade wandering in the vortex before finally dying.  There is also confirmation that the Doctor is Time’s Champion while he saves planets which makes Ace leave him.


Yes at the end of the novel Ace leaves the Doctor to travel on her own as she is distraught about Jan’s death.  Her final dialogues with the Doctor and Bernice is highly emotional harkening back to other companion departures of old mainly the departure of Tegan Jovanka and Victoria Waterfield.  All in all I have to give Love and War 100/100 as it is a great novel with a riveting plot and great characters.  This is definitely the best novel since Timewyrm: Exodus and is definitely one I will be rereading.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Nightshade by: Mark Gatiss: Roll Up and See the Monster Show

At the time of writing this it has only been about a week and a half since Mark Gatiss’ last Doctor Who effort, Sleep No More so it is interesting to read Gatiss’ first outing in Doctor Who, Nightshade.  Nightshade when you look at its plot summary is heavily influenced by The Daemons with a cut off village being attacked by an immortal evil.  However here there is no Stephen Thorne in devil makeup here as the evil here is the godlike Sentience which brings hallucinations of the lost and deceased to their loved ones.  In doing this it feeds off their energies sustaining its immortality.  It has been approaching this village since the English Civil War and manifests itself in 1968.


What the novel does best is building atmosphere.  When the novel opens there isn’t much threat except for some minor human conflict to introduce us to these different characters.  The characters are extremely colorful with the most prominent being the retired actor Edmund Trevithick, who is an obvious homage to William Hartnell’s First Doctor and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass.  He is most famous for playing the enigmatic Professor Nightshade in an old 1950s BBC serial.  He plays the center of the narrative as the horrific forms that the Sentience take are real versions of the monsters that Nightshade faced.  It’s a really good idea with some interesting parallels to Carnival of Monsters along with The Daemons and The Awakening.  There is also a team of scientists and your average domestics living in this small village as the horrors begin.  And the horrors are truly horrific with a giant praying mantis from outer space, a human made out of tar, a loved one who was eaten by sharks and gas mask zombie soldiers.  Gatiss relies on typical horror movie tropes to build the atmosphere which really works here.  The story gets increasingly dark as the pages keep turning with the horrors increasing and the bodies start piling up.


The body count in the story is the highest of the first eight novels with nearly all the likable characters dying or getting psychologically damaged in some way.  The way Gatiss describes the dead bodies is extremely gruesome as we can almost hear their dying screams as the Sentience kills them.  The Doctor and Ace also have some great character building over the course of this story.  The Doctor decides that it is time to go into retirement being prompted by finding Susan’s old Coal Hill School uniform hidden in the tertiary console room.  He almost becomes like the First Doctor in the early days of the series.  Even though he doesn’t feature as much in the story, as he’s working in a monastery through the first half of the story, but you can see that even though he doesn’t want to help he can’t keep himself from getting involved.  The story also feels for the Doctor what Ghost Light does for Ace as he has to face his fear and inner demons.  Mainly a possible impending departure of Ace, which I will go into a bit later, and the memory of Susan.  The Doctor is obviously guilty about Susan leaving him and Gatiss really knows how to bring the emotions to the surface of the more reserved Seventh Doctor.  Ace also gets some development as she pretty much takes over from the Doctor through large portions of the story.  She also has another Ghost Light moment as she faces an apparition of the mother whom she despises.  She also gets a love interest in Robin who is a great character who is well rounded and has great chemistry with Ace.  The end sees the Doctor rip their relationship apart as Ace was ready to depart.  That is my main problem with the story as Gatiss doesn’t really handle that dramatic weight very well and leaves it for the next novel to pick up as well as introduce a new companion.


My only other problem with the story is that Chapter 4 is really out of place and could have been saved for Chapter 11 and be shortened a lot.  With that said I am very interested to hear the audio adaptation of this story which is released in April 2016 as much of the novel goes darker and uses some more adult language that I don’t see Big Finish copying over to their adaptation.  All in all I give Nightshade an 80/100 as it was nearly perfect until the ending ruins the character drama that was being built up over the novel’s long pages.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark by: Andrew Hunt: Through the Looking Glass

The first two installments of the Cat’s Cradle trilogy, while being good stories, don’t have any real overarching storyline except a mysterious silver cat that appears and the TARDIS malfunctioning.  It is standard mystery box storytelling that happens in the New Series and fails when reveals don’t live up to the hype.  It didn’t work with the three Clara Oswald’s identities in Series 7B or the reveal of Missy in Series 8.  Moffat loves these kinds of stories but they rarely ever work and this trilogy is no exception.  The cat’s true identity being revealed is saved for the very end of the novel and has no real impact on the story being told.  The cat is a way for the TARDIS to heal itself from the damage it sustained from Time’s Crucible and that’s about it.   Now I believe that the ending of a story is the most important part of the story, but when an ending has nothing to do with the story itself it can be forgiven if there is a good primary story attached to it.


Well Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark doesn’t have that good of a story.  It feels much like the Series 8 episode In the Forest of the Night which used classic literary allusions as a framework for the story.  Witch Mark does pretty much the same thing, but singles out the literary work of two best friends from the 1950s.  These are The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien with many classic mythological creatures showing up for good measure.  What Andrew Hunt tries to do is to weave these creatures together with a portal to a different world in Wales of all places.  The story tries to have the childlike whimsy of Narnia combined with an epic quest like Lord of the Rings.  The plot becomes a rambling mess with a lot of self-references to some of the oddest stories.  Hunt references Ace becoming a Cheetah Person in Survival and that beekeeper in Delta and the Bannermen.  None of them really make any sort of sense and the story doesn’t flow.  This is especially apparent when you read the first four chapters and prologue which are extremely dull and extremely long.


Again a lackluster story can be made up for if there are interesting characters to become attached to, but none of the supporting characters are particularly memorable in any real way.  You would think with a cast comprised of Centaurs, Unicorns, humans, an investigative reporter, a werewolf-like creature, and some comedy Welshmen thrown in for good measure would have something to latch on to.  The only bit of intrigue is the climax when one of the human characters shapeshifts and saves the day.  The Doctor and Ace also get very little to do in the story except letting events play out before them.  Hunt also doesn’t really understand the character of Ace.  She doesn’t really feel like Ace at all, but just a random character.  Her dialogue is atrocious with weird 80s colloquialisms that I don’t think people actually said during that decade.  The Doctor also is hurt as he resembles his clownish persona of Season 24 and not the master manipulator of Seasons 25 and 26.  So all in all I can give this story 40/100 as it doesn’t really know how to be a Doctor Who story and feels out of place in the series of novels.

Cat's Cradle: Warhead by: Andrew Cartmel: Some Kind of Experiment!

Imagine The Green Death’s environmental themes mixed with the scale of Logopolis.  Now add in some extreme tension and some flowing prose and you will have Cat’s Cradle: Warhead.  The novel sees the Doctor and Ace travelling the globe trying to take down the insidious Butler Institute, which is extremely reminiscent of International Electromatics and Global Chemicals.  This time their secret is that they’re looking for people with telekinesis.  The story flows nicely from one location to another, introducing and writing out many characters with time to kill a few of them off and develop Ace into someone much older.  We see the return and death of Ace’s friend Shreela from Survival who has become a journalist and dies after the Doctor has her perform one last task.  Ace has a mission in Turkey recovering some items and being, putting it lightly, an all-around badass.  Some of the things Ace does are great as she goes along with the Doctor willingly.
The supporting characters are so many and have such varying levels of importance it is a wonder that Andrew Cartmel was able to make all of them unique.  This even includes the child that befriends the Doctor, only appearing near the beginning and the end of the novel.  You have tech genius Maria who helps get the plot going before leaving as she has no purpose.  Vincent a perverted teenager who has telekinesis and has been put in suspended animation, also being a plot device and a well-developed character.  Finally there is Justine who is pretty much a second companion for the Doctor until her end.  It is Justine who has my favorite section of the book which is her drug trip as she goes along with the Doctor’s plans.  Her arguments with Ace about magic are also really interesting to listen to.
The things Cartmel do best however are the facts that there isn’t one real villain of the piece, but there are just people who do different things.  Some of these things are good, others bad, but all done by human beings.  It creates some fascinating character drama and a compelling story that isn’t nearly as heavy handed as environmentalist stories often tend to have.  With this there are a few problems with the novel.  First and foremost, while I praised the characterization, keeping some of the people separate is very difficult as there is just so many of them to go around.  This would be a worse problem if it wasn’t for the fact that all but maybe two of them are necessary in one way to the plot.  The plot also gets confusing as you have to track where exactly in the world characters are, but once you figure that out you get some great pages on pages about them and their thoughts.
This novel does share a problem with Timewyrm: Apocalypse in that it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the arc.  So far we have no idea what the mysterious silver cat is and what it has to do with the TARDIS malfunctioning.  There also is little of anything to do with the TARDIS and we start in media res, which shouldn’t be a surprise as Cartmel only thought the TARDIS should be a means to get to a place and not lingered on.  Also the Butler Institute’s experiments don’t make much sense and only really come into effect near the end which has more problems.  By the time you get to the last three chapters you have no idea how it is going to end and Cartmell does a really quick wrap-up without progressing the story arc.  So all in all I give Cat’s Cradle: Warhead an 80/100 for being a genuinely good novel that has a few large problems stopping it from being as good as Timewyrm: Exodus and Revelation.

Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible by: Marc Platt: Ten Million Years of Absolute Power

After getting through the Timewyrm series with ease, I was eager to move on to the next book in the Virgin New Adventures line.  That book is able to boast the return of Marc Platt to the Doctor Who Universe and explores many of the ideas in the original pitch of Ghost Light and his other proposed story Cat’s Cradle.  Cat’s Cradle has had its title expanded to Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible and given a novel treatment for the Virgin New Adventures.  The novel begins a trilogy of novels concerning a silver cat and what seems to be a malfunctioning TARDIS.  The trilogy opens nicely enough with the Doctor and Ace having a nice lunch, interrupted with temporal interference.  It isn’t long before they get back to the TARDIS for some Edge of Destruction style mind-trickery and they are whisked away to Gallifray.  This isn’t the Gallifray we know, but ancient Gallifray while Rassilon and Omega were still youths and the world was ruled by Pythia and there are enormous wormlike creatures called the Processes devouring people.  Pythia would eventually curse the Gallifreans with sterility after having a bit of a hissy fit after losing her power.  This Gallifray is much rougher than the Gallifray we know as there aren’t any Time Lords.  Platt uses it to full effect by building some really interesting characters and some really forgettable ones.


The biggest applause I give Platt is his handling of Ace who is the main protagonist for most of the novel as the Doctor gets amnesia.  Ace has a role similar to Leela’s in The Invasion of Time, having to make friends with the locals of the planet, but can’t give too much away about the future unless she wants dire consequences.  The Doctor is also pretty good in the last third of the book and the first couple of chapters when he actually bothers to show up.  Now I don’t mind Doctor light stories as they often work very well, but I don’t like it when the Doctor appears he is acting like an idiot.  Here he is an idiot as soon as things to upside down and he doesn’t truly return until the end.  Platt tries to make it work but it kind of falls apart.  The last third is also where I have most of my problems with the novel.  It is way too cluttered as we have to deal with the Pythia story wrapping up and the plot with the Processes having to be finished.  The book could have been split into two with a few edits and be much easier to follow.  The novel is quite long and there is a bit of fat to be trimmed.  All in All I give Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible a 62/100 for being above average but having very little stand out except a portrayal of Ace.