Thursday, May 5, 2016

System Shock by: Justin Richards: A Virus is Like a Slippery Snake

Harry Sullivan is an extremely underrated companion in my eyes.  Only featuring from Robot to Terror of the Zygons with a small role in The Android Invasion, fans often forget who Harry was as his only purpose was to do the stronger tasks as the Fourth Doctor was originally meant to be an older man.  He features heavily in System Shock and Justin Richards does a great job at evolving his character as we meet up with him thirty years or so after the time he spent at UNIT.  Harry left but he isn’t forgotten as the new series and The Sarah Jane Adventures have mentioned him from time to time with the story that he is working for the MI5 on top secret projects.  System Shock depicts one of those projects seeing Harry in the 1990s reunite with the Doctor and Sarah Jane just after the events of The Seeds of Doom stop a race of giant snake cyborgs from taking over the world by controlling anything that uses electricity.  That idea alone has horrifying implications as the 1990s had the emergence of home computers and electronics and Justin Richards takes full advantage of this as these Voracians take over everything and use it as a weapons.  Appliances explode, printers shoot out paper, copiers give off flashes of light to blind you, no matter what Richards comes up with there is a sense of danger that pervades many of the later scenes of the novel even though to someone looking in the scenario would seem extremely silly, but paper cuts of course can be deadly.


Richards does some of his best work with Sarah Jane Smith as the performances of Elisabeth Sladen along with her chemistry with the Fourth Doctor is written beautifully.  It feels like the story is bridging the gap between Seasons 13 and 14 as Sarah Jane has been travelling and cannot believe she is seeing Harry who has grown old as time marched on.  Richards also uses Sarah Jane as a journalist for portions of the story as she cashes in some favors to get a job at the company I2 which is the secret headquarters for the Voracians.  Richards uses this to tell an espionage tale which is great as it’s a genre Doctor Who excels at as there is usually the idea there is a big bad to be defeated in espionage stories.  This is similar to Doctor Who stories also having a larger than life villain behind the ending plots.  The Fourth Doctor is portrayed brilliantly by Richards as well as Richards often uses the general character of the Doctor in his writing which is pretty much just Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.  Richards has Tom Baker’s mannerisms down to a tee even with the forgetful nature of the Doctor and the idea that he doesn’t get human beings.  He gets some great moments where he has to talk a computer into seeing that humanity and organic life isn’t illogical which is hilarious as people are wildly illogical.  The Doctor knows this and he has no idea how to actually convince the computer to spare humanity.


The novel also has a lot of problems.  First the writing style of Justin Richards is really generic and kind of a slog to get through.  He writes in a style of this happened and then this happened which breaks up the flow of the story greatly and just makes the pace seem pretty slow.  This problem does disappear about halfway through when writing the hostage situation at the unveiling of the Hubway where Sarah Jane is kidnapped as hostage and has to work with the Doctor to find a solution to the titular System Shock, which is housed on a CD-ROM, without actually being able to communicate with the Doctor or Harry.  It is really good until the eventual conclusion where Richards employs a Chekov’s gun with a throwaway character being brought back into the novel just so we can get an easily conclusion and move on with the novel.  The Voracians while an extremely interesting species with unusual speech patterns, really don’t feel like much of a threat.  They say they will kill the hostages, but they don’t and while I’m not saying there should have been a bloodbath, at least one of them could have died so the story could continue with some sense of urgency.


To summarize, System Shock is a great example of a story capturing the feel of a period, but not doing anything to stop any of the flaws of said period.  The characterization is great for the regulars and the villains, but the supporting cast is extremely boring.  The plot is an espionage thriller except it has such a general writing style it becomes boring at times.  Richards has made his story better than Theatre of War, but it isn’t very special.  75/100

No comments:

Post a Comment