Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dancing the Code by: Paul Leonard: The Land of Milk and Honey

The exile period for the Third Doctor had him working with UNIT which stood for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.  You would think involved working with the United Nations to stop problems, which rarely ever occurred on television.  The only two times they dealt with United Nations problems was when they oversaw the security for the peace conference in The Mind of Evil and the missing scientists in The Time Warrior.  This changes with Dancing the Code a story that involves UNIT being used to diffuse a situation in the Middle East as a commentary on the terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s even though the novel takes place sometime between 1973 and 1974, and I won’t get into the UNIT Dating Controversy here so this is when the story says it takes place so I’m keeping it as such.  The fictional nation of Kebiria is under civil war between Muslims and Christian not unlike Israel and Palestine, and a faction of terrorists have discovered an alien army built underneath the capital which the terrorists are using to try and win the war.  It is at this point that we meet journalist Catriona Talliser who has an interview with the terrorist group where she is told about legends of demons and eventually runs into a UNIT officer who leaks a honey like substance and mutters dancing the code.  This causes UNIT to get involved where a conspiracy is unraveled about the alien Xarax, a portmanteau of Xerox, who make copies of people filled with the honey stuff which will be used to take over the world and reproduce and it is up to the Doctor and Jo to stop this.


Of course there is a twist as the Doctor has created a machine to see into the future and has seen the Brigadier, his best friend, shoot him and Jo dead in cold blood with apparently no motivation which only adds intrigue to the story as we know that while the details may be different the Doctor and Jo will be shot.  It shows why you should never know the future must like The Space Museum as they can’t do anything to change it, but they do the logical thing and split up.  Jo takes the dangerous route and goes into Kebiria to help out with Yates investigating the UNIT soldier’s death and the strange honey substance.  This plot is extremely strong as reading it has a pace that just flies by unlike Paul Leonard’s first novel.  I read the novel in the span of the day and it feels so much like a thrill ride which just doesn’t let up as you want to know all the twists and turns of the novel as things get revealed.


Leonard also works extremely well with his cast of characters.  It is like they have leapt off the screen and into the pages, much better than The Ghosts of N-Space.  This is set firmly after Planet of the Daleks so the Doctor has freedom and is using UNIT funding for his own special projects and throughout the novel he just feels like he is being voiced by Jon Pertwee.  The double of the Doctor is also creepy as you don’t know when the Doctor is the Doctor and when he is the double which makes rereading certain passages a real treat.  Everything is left so vague which is the intention as you aren’t supposed to know who is who in what seems to be comment on the Cold War.  If the Doctor was a great representation of his screen counterpart, Jo Grant fares even better as instead of being ditzy she is even more capable as she is the one trying to figure out what the Xarax wants even after she is infected by the Xarax which I actually find really interesting.  She also has an interesting relationship with Vincent who is a terrorist leader who she almost falls in love with.  It isn’t quite love, but it has an extremely interesting dynamic with everything.


The entire UNIT family is here in this story is also impeccably presented.  Sergeant Benton gets the least amount of screen time as usual but whenever he is on he is just as lovable as always.  Captain Yates gets a much larger portion of the novel devoted to him as he is paired with Jo for some sections and stays as UNIT’s lesion for much of the plot of the story.  You can just feel Richard Franklin oozing off the page which is the same with the Brigadier.  We get into the head of the Brigadier as he doesn’t want to shoot the Doctor and Jo and the thought of it actively horrifies him.  It gets even tenser with the Doctor, Jo and several UNIT personnel being replaced with copies a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers and he can’t tell if he actually shoots the Doctor or just a copy.  The main problem I have with Dancing the Code is that the thing has way too many characters which get a bit difficult to remember and I am really trying with it.


To summarize, Dancing the Code continues the great streak the novels have been running with a tense Cold War era thriller.  Its main characters are all greatly portrayed along with many of the side characters, but there are just too many to actually make this novel perfect.  95/100

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