Thursday, October 24, 2019

Salvation by: Steve Lyons

Before I begin this review, I would like to get out of the way a little warning to potentially younger and more sensitive readers.  This review will be touching on the subject of sexual assault and potential rape.  As these topics are difficult to discuss and I do not take them lightly, I advise every reader to stop, take stock, and either stop reading or continue at your own discretion.

Salvation is the eighteenth Past Doctor Adventure to be published by BBC Books and in many respects is a successor to Steve Lyons’ previous PDA, The Witch Hunters.  The novel is once again an examination of religion, its place in society, and the effects it can have on society.  The premise of the novel involves a godlike race of six aliens crashing on Earth and immediately setting themselves up as six gods, there to give the human race what they desire.  The Latter Day Pantheon consist of the Patriarch, War, Order, Materialism, Free Love, and Peace, reflecting specific aspects of 1960’s society.  Lyons takes care into recreating the society of the 1960s with all the tension of the Cold War and Vietnam War looming over the story.  It’s only been two years since the March on Washington, overt racism is confronted by Lyons throughout the novel and the Ku Klux Klan is more than a joke.  There is a scene where a group of Klansmen petition the gods to simply proclaim the inferiority of non-white races.

This is also the first scene to illustrate one of Lyons’ main points in writing the novel: the contradictory nature of the concept of a god.  Lyons posits that gods only exist to serve a purpose of the majority of humanity, something to be used to justify truly evil acts.  The six gods in reaction to this request begin in fighting because the view of the Klan was a popular view among humanity at that moment, and the gods are there to give humanity what they want.  This is all done, interestingly, in a small area in New York City, with the rest of the world intentionally going on with their lives, partially unaware to what has been going on.  There are glimpses into the outside world, before, during, and after the events of the novel as headers to each of the chapters.  Lyons includes snippets from tabloids describing exaggerated versions of events, to excerpts from a book by a man who saved the world, and even a review of a film adaptation of the events starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who.

It is important to note that while the gods are the antagonists of the novel, Lyons does not present them as evil.  They are set up initially as formless beings which slowly take form based on their perceptions by humanity.  For example Jennifer, Goddess of Free Love, appears differently from an elderly and ragged prostitute to a beautiful young woman, depending on who is looking upon her and what their views are on the notion of free love.  As beings they shift and attempt to learn depending on what exactly their function needs to be.  In the early stages of the novel they are managed by Alexander Lullington-Smythe, a businessman and human leech, attempting to get rich quick and breaking down after the gods show that while they are becoming dictators of this small area in New York, they still have good intentions.  Yes it is totalitarian positions into which these gods are putting themselves, and what all gods end up being placed in.  They have the best of intentions but the will of the people is what is dictating their actions, representative of those who use the idea of gods for their own aims.

The Doctor is, as always when the novel is written by Lyons, is characterized impeccably throughout, with a standout scene being his interactions with the Patriarch.  The two characters have a verbal sparring match where the Doctor is taken to task for several of his previous actions from as far back as The Aztecs and as recent as The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve.  The Patriarch claims the Doctor is a hypocrite when it comes to what others are and are not allowed to do when it comes to time, which is an argument where he is not entirely incorrect.  The Doctor does often take matters into his own hands when it comes to travelling to the past, he was after all responsible for giving Nero the idea of burning down Rome in The Romans while chastising Barbara for attempting to influence history in The Aztecs.  The Doctor’s actions against Steven Taylor during The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve are also taken to task as Salvation occurs immediately following that story.  He has to admit in this story that he is not an infallible character, something incredibly reflective on the character journey for the First Doctor and in interesting foreshadowing of where his character will go after he regenerates.  Steven Taylor is also taken on an important character journey, resolving here to stay with the Doctor, but also attempting to find something bigger than himself.  Much of the early novel is told from his point of view, wallowing in the aftermath of The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve and the Doctor leaving Anne Chaplet to die.  He finds himself initially working for the gods which allows his own personal revelation into what his purpose is, foreshadowing his exit in The Savages where he finds that purpose.

As this takes place immediately after The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, Salvation chronicles the first real adventure to feature Dodo Chaplet.  Steve Lyons takes full advantage of this to expand on Dodo’s backstory and motivations for staying on with the Doctor as the setting of the novel is the same time as the final scenes of the previous story, just primarily in New York instead of London.  Dodo does live with her great aunt Margaret, whom she does care for, and has lived a difficult life since her parents had died.  Bullied at school for having an upper class accent and name, Dorothea, Dodo created the more cockney persona the audience saw in her first few scenes to fit in.  Lyons writes her as an optimist and a seeker of adventure, but expands on the dark nature of her circumstances when she boards the TARDIS.  Dodo spends quite a lot of time helping an elderly man with housework and errands as he is old and feeble, and the beginning of the novel chronicles how the old man is killed and Joseph, the God of Peace, takes his form and keeps Dodo hostage.  This is due to the fact that at this time Joseph has not completely formed opinions and does not understand Earth society, and doesn’t want Dodo to escape out of fear.  Almost a reverse Stockholm syndrome situation arises as Joseph grows fond of Dodo, and at the climax of the second chapter, before escaping, Joseph sexually assaults and potentially rapes Dodo.  Lyons writes this scene with the upmost care for both Dodo’s trauma, as it does effect her throughout the book and she has to overcome, and for Joseph’s development into a human, as he learns to understand why what he did was wrong and actually patch up a relationship with Dodo.  Perhaps it finishes a bit too quickly and is patched up too nicely, but Lyons should be commended for tackling this sort of topic.  Overall, Salvation is not quite as good as Lyons’ previous novel The Witch Hunters, but is an excellent exploration and development of the era and an incredibly compelling story to boot.  9/10.

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