Friday, May 13, 2016

The Sorcerer's Apprentice by: Christopher Bulis: There's No Such Thing as Magic…And Almost Magically the TARDIS Disappeared

Having the First Doctor being placed in a traditional fantasy world as a premise is a spark of genius.  The First Doctor has always been the most skeptical of the Doctors and the most driven by the search of knowledge.  I mean look at his actions in An Unearthly Child and The Daleks where his actions are dictated on exploring the new worlds he has found himself landing in yet never would admit magic is possible.  This makes it extremely interesting with today’s novel, taking place immediately after Marco Polo, sees the Doctor, Ian and Barbara landing on the planet Avalon which is every bit the traditional fantasy world with kings, queens, wizards, dwarves and elves all inhabiting the planet which just perplexes the Doctor.  The plot of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, really doesn’t matter as it is standard early Hartnell with a companion being captured in Susan who needs to be rescued, but the intrigue comes in how this planet which is in the thirtieth century, has magic which by the Doctor’s reckoning couldn’t actually exist in the story.  Christopher Bulis’ third novel while not as good as State of Change is jammed packed with a mystery which knows exactly how to let out its reveals slowly over the course of the novel with plenty of red herrings.


Yes the reveal after reading the novel seems a bit obvious as the show has never really been able to do something like this without it coming to mind, but Bulis succeeds in creating a vivid picture of a world with characters that feel like they came from 1964.  This is especially prevalent in the way Bulis writes for the main characters especially the Doctor.  The Doctor doesn’t do as much in this story as some other’s but he feels every bit like William Hartnell’s original portrayal and this novel really acts like it’s trying to bridge the character gap between Marco Polo and The Keys of Marinus which really makes the Doctor warm up to the prospect of having companions.  While it is Susan who is captured he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to Ian or Barbara as he promised to eventually get them home even if there are going to be a lot of detours on the way there.  His aristocracy also bleeds through as he acts like his opinion on magic is more important than the evidence in front of his eyes that magic exists on this world and is just natural.  The characterization of Susan does not only reflect her portrayal on television, but also amplifies it as even though she is captured by the villain, she tries to get out of it using her mind and finding a way to corrode the bars of her cell which is an extremely clever way.  She is paired up with the princess Melissa who is what Susan was on television, the girl who screams and screams.  Melissa acts as a great foil for Susan as Melissa is about to get married in a medieval style arranged marriage which much like in Marco Polo, Susan is appalled by.  I can just imagine Carol Ann Ford and later William Russell reading these lines in an audio adaptation of this story as there are some things that would give the Big Finish Team a good challenge.  On the topic of William Russell, Ian and Barbara are also characterized extremely well, with Barbara getting the better bits as she gets to fly on a broom with a Terry Pratchett style witch straight out of Equal Rites.


The villain of this story is Marton Dhal who is pretty much a mix of Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz.  Dhal is just a terrifying villain and it is implied that he would do anything to get what he wants which is power.  He isn’t very deep, but he is still an interesting villain to watch as you don’t know what he is going to do next.  The novel’s largest problems are the rest of the supporting cast are standard fantasy characters and the subplot with the astronauts landing on Avalon really makes the flow of the story feel really choppy over the course of the 300 page novel.


To summarize, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a novel full of good ideas and some good characterizations, but the story has a lot of flaws and quite a few holes in the plot.  The so called plot twists are extremely easy to guess early on and Bulis would have made the pacing a lot tighter if he cut out the astronaut subplot to the bare minimum as a more effective twist that the lights in the sky were crashing spaceships.  Still very much worth it for an enjoyable novel. 75/100

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