Monday, May 23, 2016

Zamper by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who and the Planet of the Space Turtles

Gareth Roberts is an author whom I really have a soft spot for as his stories are almost always at least average at his worst to brilliant at his best, as the guy can give a good story whenever he is required to, but it seems that his Virgin New Adventures just don’t have that luck.  His first was still his best as The Highest Science actually works really well in an audio format while his second, Tragedy Day, is definitely his worst effort as it isn’t remotely good putting his third and final Virgin New Adventure somewhere in between the two as it never really comes across as bad as Tragedy Day, but it isn’t very good either.  Zamper is plain and simply a story that has a lot of potential for greatness without anything holding it together to keep me interested in what the plot has to offer.


The plot sees the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz land on Zamper, a business planet where things have been falling apart as the Management of Zamper has been dying.  The planet is doing business dealings with the Chelonians, aka Cyborg Space Turtles which are basically the shining light for this novel because Hermaphrodite Cyborg Space Turtles.  The Chelonian Empire is falling and the novel’s plot involves the Doctor and company freeing an enslaved native race in what could be an allegory for Britain’s subjugation of Indians and Africans in what is a really confusing metaphor to follow.  The plot for the rather short novel runs very thinly over the pages which really doesn’t help the case of the novel.  The stuff Roberts does to explore the Chelonians and their waning empire is quite interesting as there are quite a few things to enjoy about the sections dedicated to them.  Roberts also characterizes the specific Chelonians well as they have to overcome biases against humans whom they of course regard as parasite.  Their name for the Doctor is also pretty apt as he is described as an interfering idiot.


Speaking of characterization, a problem in the novel is that for about the first half of the novel Chris and Roz really don’t get much to do in the story and don’t have much character.  By the end we do get some more insight into Roz’s mind and how she almost views the Doctor as an old friend which is interesting at the expense of Chris who gets no characterization whatsoever.  This is really a problem as Original Sin and Sky Pirates! did enough to equal them both out as here Roberts seems only able to deal with two companions.  Yes two companions as Benny portrayed here is also in quite a good manner as Roberts uses the novel to reflect on her character development along the long course of Virgin New Adventures.  She originally started travelling with the Doctor to have some thrills and those first few adventures were full of thrills and surprises, but once Ace came back and they had to deal with IMC and the Monk, something changed making the adventures almost less fun.  She found the last few outings to have breathed new life into the Doctor which Benny is extremely happy for as they have new people to talk to who aren’t suffering from Ace’s baggage.  It’s also a clever way for Roberts to comment on the rest of the range which allows for some nice satirical sections added in with Roberts’s already comedic writing style.


The distinctive style is seen in the characterization of the Doctor who seems to be a lot more relaxed in this story and is actually having the chance to enjoy himself for once in this incarnation which is something that has been sorely missing from the other stories in some of the novel range.  The comedy in this story ranges from tongue and cheek satire to laugh out loud punchlines and even quite a few puns that really come out of nowhere and catch you off guard with their humor.  The novel does suffer from being badly paced with some passages flowing rather nicely while others are extremely bland as we have to deal with a lot of supporting characters with the motivation of simply being evil businessmen which has been done better in other stories.


To summarize, Zamper has a lot of potential to be a comedic story in a lot of aspects as Gareth Roberts knows how to write for Doctor Who, but through very weak characterization of supporting cast, a bland version of Chris Cwej and a cookie cutter plot that could come from any real story, there isn’t much here to enjoy.  The Chelonians and the characterization of Benny, Roz and even the Doctor do provide a few saving graces from keeping this story to be a bad story, but that doesn’t make it good.  50/100

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