Friday, March 4, 2016

St. Anthony's Fire by: Mark Gatiss: Vacation in a Warzone

St. Anthony’s Fire is the second novel by Mark Gatiss following his brilliant Nightshade and preceding any of his television Doctor Who work.  Now when I first heard Gatiss wrote a second Virgin New Adventure as I loved Nightshade and his work for Doctor Who on television has for the most part been average at the worst and pretty good at the best.  So I looked forward to this novel with anticipation.  Sadly I was surprised to find that St. Anthony ’s Fire is one of Gatiss’ lesser works, not that it is very bad, but it is very average for a Doctor Who story.  The plot sees the Doctor and Benny visit a planet inhabited by waring lizard people (Ace is relaxing on a nearby planet) where they get embroiled in a war that eventually turns out to be motivated by the Chaptermen of St. Anthony.  These religious fanatics wish to see the planet burn in flames by St. Anthony’s fire, an enormous weapon that has already destroyed planets in the past.  So you get your standard piece about warring factions who have fought for too long to remember wanting to have peace, but a third party makes the war be dragged out for a period of time so the Doctor can show up and save the day.  So pretty standard stuff for a story that puts the boringness that is Meglos to shame as St. Anthony’s Fire has a lot of the same story beats.


If I can praise Gatiss for something, it would be how much of a good grasp Gatiss has for the Doctor, Ace and Benny.  When reading the novel, the Doctor’s dialogue rolls off the tongue so well in my head it sounded like Sylvester McCoy was there reading it like an audio book.  Sure he isn’t being the manipulator so much in this story as he’s trying to get some rest on the planet.  Benny gets to shine as well throughout the novel and Gatiss is clearly having a ball with writing her.  It’s Benny who gets the Doctor into the mess by suggesting going to the planet in the first place.  She refuses to be treated like an animal and decides never to patronize anyone again after being patronized by the inhabitants of the planet.  Gatiss also deals with Ace in a great way, mainly getting rid of her through the first half of the novel, and when she returns in the second half of the novel, even though this is the New Ace, Gatiss writes her not far off from the Ace we saw on television.  She takes the traditional companion role of asking all the right questions so we can explain the plot.  Oh and she is tortured, so that happens.  Her best bits come near the beginning of the novel where the Doctor reminisces on how much Ace has changed and how she is starting to become more like her old self.


On the other side of things, the supporting characters are really boring.  While there are some good moments as they have never seen humans before, most of them are stereotypical soldier characters that don’t amount to much.  Most of them are all defined by one character trait.  You have the fearless leader, the psychopath, the scientist and the religious fanatics.  They left very little impact on me except for a reason to have the plot move forward.  The sheer amount of references to other stories to make up for flaws in the plot also caused a problem especially when they reference the space scene from Four to Doomsday.


To summarize, St. Anthony’s Fire really just adds up to a pretty meh story.  The worst thing an author can do is bore you with their craft and that’s what Mark Gatiss does, bringing the story to an almost standstill at several points.  He excels with the main cast, but has one note supporting characters who are all unsympathetic and pretty one note.  I only finished reading about an hour ago and I can barely remember any of the characters names and any of the small details that usually stand out in a novel like this.  You may like it but I can only give it a below average 40/100

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