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.

Timewyrm: Revelation by: Paul Cornell: And they descended into Hell

After I struggled to remember what happened in the end of Timewyrm: Apocalypse, Paul Cornell’s debut novel, Timewyrm: Revelation, proves to be quite the opposite of Apocalypse living up to expectations set in the other Timewyrm novels.  What first strikes the reader is the cover seeing the Doctor dance with Death on the Moon while an astronaut looks on and a church is in the background.  An odd image to be sure, but not nearly as surreal as the novel gets.  The novel is first and foremost an introspection of the mind of the Doctor and we get to see much of the way that the other Doctors are seen except for the Second Doctor, who got his time to shine in Timewyrm: Apocalpyse, and the Sixth Doctor who I theorize actually scares the Seventh Doctor.  The way the Doctor sees his other selves fit perfectly with the First Doctor as the Librarian searching for a daisy, the Third Doctor the owner of a fortress and almost a mistake, and the Fourth Doctor as a ferryman who knows more than he lets on.  The most interesting aspect of this is how the Fifth Doctor is seen, as the conscience who has been trapped in the Pit.  He is the most integral to the plot as to escape his mind Ace must free the conscience after facing every death the Doctor caused.  Each death is given gravity even when Katarina appears as Cornell could easily have made her death desensitized.


The plot itself is also very engaging with the Doctor and Ace arriving in the village of Cheldon Bonniface to confront the Timewyrm for the last time.  Before long they are whisked off to the moon along with a sentient church, an aged vicar, a married couple and their child, and a child that in a divergent timeline killed Ace as a child.  This is where everything gets surreal as before the exploration of the Doctor’s mind, Ace must overcome her own problems and we get to see a lot of her childhood.  We see how she could have become incredibly vapid and not nearly as strong a person as she was.  We see her relationship with Manisha, her friend mentioned in Ghost Light who died when her house was firebombed by Neo-Nazis.  We see Ace’s mother and some of her other friends last seen in Survival and we also see Ace go to The Curse of Fenric length emotions over the Doctor.  While she isn’t completely upset with him, here she is angry for his failed master plan.  We get to see Chad Boyle, the astronaut on the cover who nearly killed Ace with a brick as a child.


Chad is a really sympathetic villain as we eventually learn what this timeline’s version did turn out to be.  He turned into someone who had an ordinary life unlike this Chad who had been enticed by his “Angel” aka the Timewyrm since a young age.  He is every petulant child and even the Timewyrm can’t always put up with him.  The other characters are a bit of a negative as the married couple, Peter and Emily Hutchings, are a bit bland.  Peter suffers the most as at least Emily is a strong independent woman.  They are only there to conclude the plot.  The vicar is a bit bland as well, but Saul is extremely interesting.  Saul is the sentient church who is pretty much a less depressed and churchier version of Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.   The Timewyrm is also brilliantly written here as the intimidating villain and although the ending is a touch of a cop out, she has a great presence.  All in all I give Timewyrm: Revelation a 95/100 and recommend it to anyone.

Timewyrm: Apocalypse by: Nigel Robinson: A few hiccoughs in paradise

Timewyrm: Apocalypse is the penultimate novel in the Timewyrm tetralogy and personally it is the weakest link of the three I’ve read currently.  Nigel Robinson basically uses his novel to rewrite The Krotons while bringing in new ideas that would be stolen in The Doctor’s Daughter and Utopia.  The plot should be interesting.  It involves the Doctor and Ace arriving on a planet where everything is too perfect so they are going to make hiccups in paradise as the novel puts it several times.  Robinson does his best work when he writes for Ace as she feels like a direct development from Timewyrm: Exodus with a few inconstancies.  For instance, in Timewyrm: Exodus, Ace throws Nitro 9 at Nazis without a care for their lives, but here she cares to see that the people she threw explosives die.


The Doctor also feels out of character and is almost as if it is written for other Doctors at various different points, especially the First and Second Doctors.  There are also a lot of flashbacks to the Second Doctor’s era at various points in the story.  The Timewyrm seriously got a downgrade in her story arc as she is really powerless and is easily defeated.  This shouldn’t be the case as she is featured prominently and if Terrance Dicks or John Peel were writing the story she would be even more powerful.  The supporting characters are the most interesting thing about the novel.  Raphael would be the most interesting and he would have made a good companion.


The biggest problem of the novel is that it’s a really forgettable one.  I finished it last night and already I’m having trouble remembering everything about it.  This is especially weird considering that the book is much shorter than Timewyrm: Genesys and Timewyrm: Exodus.  I also didn’t really like the writing style as it was bland compared to the other novels.  All in all I give Timewyrm: Apocalypse 50/100 as it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either

Timewyrm: Exodus by: Terrance Dicks: Heil Doctor!

Timewyrm: Exodus sees the return of Terrance Dicks to the world of Doctor Who, writing a story asking the question “What if Hitler won World War II?” with the Doctor and Ace arriving in an alternate 1951 Britain where the Nazis won the war.  While Dicks is most known for his Target novelizations of countless stories, his style in those translates better than it really should as the book is such an easy read.  Take note I say easy, but the novel is far from childish.  The story is extremely adult with the Doctor actually having to side with the Nazis and help Adolf Hitler while keeping the timeline intact.  It is much unlike Timewyrm: Genesys which elected to use sex as a way to be adult while here it is just pure adult themes.  There are also sacrificial cults reminiscent of The Stones of Blood and the villain is even from a certain classic Dicks script from 1969.  The twist is greatly well done on who is behind the interference as the Doctor says several times that it couldn’t be the Timewyrm because it is too subtle for her tastes.


On the topic of the Timewyrm, for the few scenes she’s in you get to see her vulnerable and in fear, as well as prideful.  This is in stark contrast to Timewyrm: Genesys where she was much more cool, calculating and manipulative.  The real villains of the piece aren’t revealed until the final act of the novel where we see the scope of their plans.


The characterization of the Doctor and Ace are great again here as we see Ace push her limits after actually killing Nazi soldiers and being a bit cold as they shouldn’t have been alive.  The Doctor is also great as he is being the chessmaster, but has to keep changing up his strategy as the situation keeps changing out of his control.  The Timewyrm seems to be a great villain for the Seventh Doctor because of how much she knows and she is connected to the Doctor and knows what he is going to do.  The stakes are raised here as if the Timewyrm dies the Doctor and the TARDIS will die as well.  What also is great is that there aren’t any negatives I can find in this novel as it feels like it could be an audio drama like The Chimes of Midnight or Spare Parts.  So all in all I give Timewyrm: Exodus 100/100 for being a great read that raises the stakes and gets ready for a climax in Timewyrm: Apocalypse and Timewyrm: Revelation.

Timewyrm: Genesys by: John Peel: The Beginning of a New Era

John Peel's Timewyrm: Genesys has a lot to establish if the Virgin New Adventures were going to take off.  It had to follow up Survival and introduce the readers to how the direction these novels were going to go.  Peel also decides to add a scene explaining the basic premise of the show which is really good as you see Ace lose her memory so we can have an exposition dump.  After that we get a story where the Fourth Doctor during The Invasion of Time, has recorded a message warning his future self of the escaping Timewyrm.  These scenes in the book are really the weakest as they get self-indulgent and they keep cutting away to the characters who will be important later.  It causes the pace of the story to have a really slow start instead of just leaving it for when the TARDIS arrives.

Once the TARDIS does arrive however, the pace picks up almost immediately with the Doctor and Ace getting involved with Gilgamesh, Enkiedu and the goddess Ishtar who are well written characters except for Enkiedu who is too much of a straight man to Gilgamesh's crazy kingliness.  Ace gets some great lines and situations with her disgust at Mesopotamian societal norms and casual sexism.  Her best scenes exemplify a theme of the novel, being that societal norms can’t always be judged by today's standards unless there is something intrinsically wrong with their beliefs.

The novel is oddly not divided into parts as if it was a TV story but as one long story almost like the Epic of Gilgamesh it was inspired by.  And like the ancient epics this novel has a great villain in Ishtar who is basically the female version of Sutekh from Pyramids of Mars.  The only difference is that Ishtar isn't all powerful until the end when she becomes the Timewyrm.  So all in all I give Timewyrm: Genesys 75/100 for being a really good introduction to the New Adventures and really good at continuing the development of the Doctor and Ace.

An Introduction

Hello and welcome to my blog.  First and foremost I'm a Doctor Who fan whose favorite Doctor is the Seventh Doctor, Favorite Companion is Ace and Favorite Story is Remembrance of the Daleks.  I enjoy writing opinion pieces and love stories so this blog is gong to be a way for me to review as many stories as I can from whatever I come across.  Each review will be at least 500 words, but the length will change depending on the review.  The first may be shorter as I wrote them without the minimum in mind.

I recently acquired all of the Classic Doctor Who novels.  Reviews of these novels will be where this blog begins, starting with the Virgin New and Missing Adventures, followed by the BBC Books range.  I also have a YouTube channel where I review Doctor Who and I may post those reviews to this blog later on in a text format with some edits.  I will also review other films and television series at my own discretion.

And finally I would like to thank JK Rowling, Joe Ford aka Doc Oho, Neil & Sue Perryman, William Carlisle, Doug Walker, Lewis Lovehaug, James Wilson,  Matthew Rowney, and Zachary Royce who have all given me inspiration to write.