Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mission: Impractical by: David A. McIntee

Mission: Impractical is a Doctor Who heist novel.  Proudly bearing Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, Sabalom Glitz, and a duo of Ogrons on the standard late 1990s photoshop cover gives the reader the exact impression of what type of adventure they are in for.  It’s pure pulp fiction, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing as returning writer David A. McIntee always impresses with his ability to spin a yarn.  McIntee’s style is always a breeze be it pulp to his darker novels like Sanctuary or The Dark Path, and Mission: Impractical is no exception to this.  McIntee fills the novel with action sequences and shootouts somehow with this sense of grace.  It is obvious that McIntee has a grasp on Glitz and Dibber, both highlights of the novel.  Both characters were what sold The Mysterious Planet and once again they steal the show in Mission: Impractical.  McIntee handles with care connecting The Mysterious Planet, The Ultimate Foe, and Dragonfire together in this story as we see what exactly Glitz and Dibber are up to, and why exactly Dibber didn’t appear in Dragonfire.  Where McIntee fails is that Mission: Impractical attempts to be an out and out comedy with Doctor Who references galore.  We have Glitz and Dibber as major characters, Ogrons, the Tzun make appearances from previous McIntee novels First Frontier and The Dark Path among others, and there’s a Mr. Zimmerman character who is apparently the Valeyard under an assumed name.  The continuity is perhaps too much for one novel to succeed on its own merits as the references tend to clutter things, while McIntee needed to work more on the comedy.

The comedy here suffers due to the attempts McIntee makes to be out and out funny when the best gags are the witty one liners sprinkled throughout.  The Ogrons in particular fail to impress in the humor department, while the Holmesian double act of Glitz and Dibber are highlights of the novel.  This is also McIntee’s only work to feature the Sixth Doctor, yet oddly enough the Doctor is excellent throughout the novel.  Perhaps closest to the persona seen in the Doctor Who Magazine comics, by design, the Doctor goes right along with Glitz as he has learned to at least trust more people since the end of his trial.  The Doctor also gets quite a lot of the humorous dialogue and scenarios in this novel, not surprising considering the coat.  And finally the companion of the novel is Frobisher.  This is not a drill. We have the big talking bird.  McIntee obviously understands exactly what makes Frobisher work: his absurdity.  He’s portrayed as a hard boiled noir detective who just happens to be in the form of a penguin and continues to act like a penguin.  If you are looking for a cheap way of getting into Frobisher as a character Mission: Impractical is the book for you, the only issue is that he perhaps doesn’t feature as prominently as there is overshadowing with other characters.  That’s the novel’s biggest flaw, things get overshadowed by the sheer amount McIntee funneled into the book. Overall, the book still stands despite this pretty major flaw, but the flaw does leave a mark and lessens the enjoyment factor.  7/10.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Seeing I by: Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman

It perhaps would be an understatement to call Seeing I a necessary novel for the Eighth Doctor Adventures.  Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman’s novel is responsible for wrapping up the Sam is Missing arc of the Eighth Doctor Adventures and serves to remedy something that has been severely lacking in this specific range.  The character of Samantha Jones has suffered from inconsistent characterization ranging from a lovesick puppy to generic female from late 20th century Earth to activist.  Seeing I instead of focusing on a heavily involved plot, sticks with a small cast of characters to give Sam a decent reintroduction as companion to the Doctor.  Orman and Blum force Sam to grow up, setting a novel over the course of three or four years both the Doctor and Sam spend on Ha’olam.  The technologically advanced planet has mysteriously gained access to Gallifreyan technology which only makes the Doctor stay once he’s tracked Sam’s location to the planet.  Orman and Blum keep them separated throughout the novel, Sam spending three years moving from job to job, attempting to make a name for herself.  Sam explores what it means to be Samantha Angeline Jones and spends much of her time in reflection as to why she ran away from the Doctor.  It does amount to being unable to process the idea that she is in love with the Doctor and he would never reciprocate the feelings, so she attempts to act like he would.  This is a book where she has to discover who she actually is and what she wants to be.  Getting a desk job becomes far too boring for her, Blum and Orman emulating the soul crushing boredom these jobs often require of their workers.  She saves her money, quits, and then finds a cause to fight for: a job building houses for a settlement outside the major city.  This section of the novel plays out not to dissimilar to Colony in Space while INC, the central government, attempts to take away the settlement, but actually succeeds.  She then gathers her friends to find the Doctor, who has been on the planet the entire time.

The Doctor’s half of the narrative is confined near exclusively to the Oliver Bainbridge Functional Stabilisation Centre, in other words a prison for the crime of espionage.  This particular prison manages to be one of the few cells to keep the Doctor captured, paradoxically using what seems to be old tactics.  The correctional officer, Dr. Akalu, who treats the Doctor, or Mr. Bowman as his papers say, with the upmost respect.  Akalu serves as a psychologist, attempting to get the Doctor to settle in and live the rest of his life in the prison.  The prison itself is almost a utopia, giving its nonviolent inmates a place to stay and a place to work with a purpose.  There is a genuine thought process of making the prisoners wanting to stay to stop any sort of rebellion.  Yet this is all a front to break the prisoners into living life, and slowly Seeing I breaks the Doctor.  With each escape attempt, and each piece of knowledge about the prison, the Doctor is three steps back in his escape attempt.  The Doctor seen two-thirds through the novel is truly a sight for sore eyes, spending the end of his imprisonment doodling over the walls.  The doodles start out at the level of the Sistine Chapel and devolves into a child’s doodles.  Orman in particular has a history of putting the Doctor in these types of situations and once again this type of torture is incredibly effective.  You see the Doctor lose his will to keep moving, he doesn’t know why Sam would leave, and he cannot fathom why she wouldn’t come back.  Their reunion at the climax of the novel is incredible with both characters coming to an understanding about their relationship.  Unlike Deceit, Sam has not changed to become a darker character like Ace, but to become an established character.

Orman and Blum also expand on the Dark Sam idea last seen in Alien Bodies as living in King’s Cross as a heroin addict.  The mystery is only seen in the background early on in the novel building intrigue to what possible relevance this version of the character.  Sadly after the Doctor and Sam reuinite, the final showdown the DOCTOR and I, the two computer program villains of the novel doesn’t live up to the slow burn that Orman and Blum set up.  The computer programs do serve as fun villains, DOCTOR being modelled off the Doctor, and I being made out of Gallifreyean technology gives both characters well rounded personalities.  The finale just leaves the reader wanting more from the book, something that is rare from these authors.   Despite this Seeing I is perhaps the best Eighth Doctor Adventure since Alien Bodies. 9/10.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Catastrophea by: Terrance Dicks

Frontier in Space is a story most famous for being the final story to feature Roger Delgado’s Master, but was remembered by Jon Pertwee for being the only televised story to feature the Draconians, his favorite alien.  It is fitting that Terrance Dicks first contribution to the Past Doctor Adventures range serves as a well deserved tribute to Jon Pertwee and his era on television.  Catastropheia takes place after the two story arc Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks, and serves as a prequel to the Earth-Draconian conflict seen in the former story.  While it features a Draconian prominently on the cover to entice fans to read, the majority of Catastrophea plays out like a tense political thriller with the Draconian Empire in the background.  The planet Kastopheria, like many planets, is an Earth colony with an authoritarian regime.  Currently at a time of peace, there are protests against the government waiting for rebellion leader ‘el Llama’ to start things off.  Of course, the Doctor and Jo Grant get involved through cases of mistaken identity and throughout the novel are captured and released several times before being placed in a position where they can help the inhabitants of the planet from the authoritarian General Walton and corrupt politician Councilor Rekar.  Walton is your stereotypical buffoon military politician character (think Mr. Chinn in The Claws of Axos) who is easily fooled by young and ineffective rebels while Rekar is the scheming bigoted character who abuses his power.

Terrance Dicks uses Catastorphea almost as a make up novel for the disaster that was The Eight Doctors.  Instead of trailing back through the Doctor’s timeline, Dicks uses this novel to celebrate an era of the show that he loves while not letting the celebration overtake the central plot of the novel.  Yes there are plenty of tropes here common in the Pertwee era, but they are all present in the background and do not impede much of the enjoyment of the novel.  There is a minor trap where Dicks perhaps has too many subplots going which makes wrapping them up nicely in the end of the novel takes a bit of work, but as always the easy to read prose quickly gets the reader to the point Dicks is attempting to make.  There’s a plot about an indigenous cult who has the Doctor as their Messiah figure, commentary on indigenous rights, and the standard political drama as tensions rise.  Each of these subplots are in full swing before the Draconians even appear in the novel.  Dick’s writing style makes pages fly by and having short chapters keeps the pace up as there are tributes to every cliffhanger making the book difficult to put down.  The epilogue of the novel is a chilling final note, not including the Doctor or Jo, but giving insight into the side characters various fates.  The Third Doctor is masterfully characterized here from the word go: he’s as suave as ever, puts Jo’s life above his own, and is willing to charm the authorities to get them out of trouble.  Dicks also highlights just how many steps ahead the Third Doctor would be as he is correcting for outside influences of other characters.

The Draconian subplot, while always a presence as there is a blockade against them from the beginning of the novel, only comes to a head in the final third of the novel.  That final third is perhaps the novel’s most exciting as we see tensions between Draconia and humanity rise up to begin the war which was explored in Frontier in Space.  The war itself is one which comes because of the personal interests of the parties involved, a theme Dicks weaves throughout the book.  The interest of the young rebels, genuinely wanting a better life for themselves but falling to naiveite of being unable to mobilize.  Or the interests of the natives who believe the Doctor is there to save their plight and even the interest of the politicians who only want power.  Dicks uses the setting of a jungle planet to full effect with the sweltering heat representing the rising tensions.  He can consider himself on his way to redemption from the travesty of The Eight Doctors by writing a celebratory novel full of tropes that still manage to make an excellent read. 8/10.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Dreamstone Moon by: Paul Leonard

Paul Leonard’s Genocide was one of the earliest Eighth Doctor Adventures to show that there really is a potential to tell expansive and thought-provoking stories even with a companion like Sam Jones being as bland as ever.  Giving him a second Eighth Doctor Adventure while Sam is missing should have allowed Leonard the opportunity to rise above Genocide’s already high performance as a book into something great.  Like Genocide, Dreamstone Moon is a story with a political slant: this time going up against the corporate elite and an anti-drug lesson with another hint of environmentalism for good measure.  These messages are nothing new and there is nothing wrong with implanting a message, yet Leonard’s novel falls into cliché traps of ‘the planet is alive’ so don’t damage it and a standard using drugs are evil message.  The ‘drug’ in question is dreamstone, a metal mined from the titular moon, which enhances one’s dreams into an LSD-like trip.  Leonard’s descriptions of the trips taken with dreamstone are fascinating, especially the prologue which uses a gimmick of being dictated to a machine to generate genuine tension.  The plot of the novel itself is nothing special, it’s a standard Doctor Who romp where protestors from many races are attempting to stop a mining colony from taking the dreamstone while the Doctor gets involved.

Much like Dancing the Code and Genocide the real villain of Dreamstone Moon is a bit more abstract, if cliched at this point.  The twists Leonard includes can be seen coming a mile away and unlike Genocide, the characters are all pretty bland.  There are several alien races which all have about one or two character traits, yet it is difficult to tell them apart.  The Doctor and Sam both have their own little side plots while not affecting much of the novel.  The writing style feels like Dreamstone Moon was heavily edited from its initial pitch to fit into the arc and include the character of Sam.  Leonard is unable to successfully juggle the two plotlines of the novel making both fall flat.  The editing makes it feel as if Sam was added in at the last minute due to her absence in Legacy of the Daleks.  Her plotline takes up the least amount of pages and doesn’t actually develop her as a character.  She hasn’t learned anything from running away from the Doctor in Longest Day: she’s still in love with the Doctor and only wants to go back because she seems to think she can make a relationship work or at least keep her feelings in control.

Having the Doctor appear about 50 pages into the novel does make Dreamstone Moon have a feeling of an attempted Virgin New Adventure with little of the charm that makes the Virgin New Adventures work as books.  The Eighth Doctor’s characterization is reverted closer to a standard Doctor for most of the book.  Leonard destroys his Volkswagen Beetle and has him preoccupied with finding Sam, as if he has been searching for her for a long time.  It is made clear however that the Doctor has only just finished the events of Legacy of the Daleks which is immediately behind Longest Day so there isn’t much time that has past since Sam left.  The Doctor acts like his search is hopeless and while the final scene has some satisfactory rage it is not earned by the characters.  This is also the penultimate installment in the arc and it does not actually set up any finale.  Dreamstone Moon can be described as a novel with a lot of wasted potential, a rare black mark from a great author.  3/10.