Friday, November 8, 2019

The Wages of Sin by: David A. McIntee

If there’s one type of story that the Jon Pertwee era is never associated with is the historical, much less the pure historical.  Of the 24 stories from Pertwee’s run as the Doctor only one took place in the past and that was The Time Warrior, a story that doesn’t really use any historical elements outside of the basic setting.  This makes it odd that the Past Doctor Adventures gives the Third Doctor his very own historical, and a pure historical at that as his fourth novel.  The Wages of Sin takes the Third Doctor and Jo Grant, reuniting them with Liz Shaw, and taking them back in time to St. Petersburg in December 1916.  Europe is in the clutches of the First World War, Russia is on the brink of Revolution, the final Tsar is in power, and men are plotting the downfall of the mad monk Rasputin.  This being a pure historical it is only fitting that David A. McIntee authors after his excellent work on the Virgin New Adventure Sanctuary.  The novel has a clear mission statement, explore the history and attempt to make some sort of sense out of the mysterious circumstances of the death of Rasputin.  There are several contradicting accounts of how the man died, but what is known is that he died on December 30, 1916 of three gunshot wounds.  A trio of men: Felix Yusupov, Dmitri Pavlovich, and Vladimir Purishkevich are responsible for the plot and murder, but nobody quite knows the circumstances of the man’s death.  McIntee himself claims in his Author’s Note that he “tried to use the different sources to construct the most feasible person possible”.  It is because of this that the ending of the novel is a bit too convoluted and not as satisfying as it perhaps could have been, but that’s history isn’t it?

There is little artistic license when portraying Russia as a setting.  McIntee imbues the novel with this sense of mistrust.  The Doctor cannot believe that there isn’t some alien running around in early portions of the novel, members of the predecessor to the KGB are a constant threat, and many of the conversations between every character have this tense undercurrent to them.  As this is a pure historical there must be an action which keeps the Doctor and company in Russia at this time as early in the novel the Doctor implies that this was only meant to be a quick trip to prove to Liz especially what the TARDIS could do.  He has just gotten back control of the ship after all so he was always going to show off.  McIntee has certain Russian agents following the TARDIS crew believing them to be spies for the British so they steal the TARDIS.  The actual plot is the Doctor, Liz, and Jo each in their own way attempting to find the TARDIS while history is occurring around them.  The characterization of Liz Shaw is interesting here as this is the first piece of Doctor Who media to really come to terms with how the character would react to time travel.  McIntee excels with Liz’s internal monologue as throughout the novel she is questioning just how any of this is possible.  It is interesting contrast as in her television appearances she is skeptical but never faced with anything that she couldn’t rationalize.  The prospect of time travel is enough to break her which is excellent.  She comes to terms with this about halfway through the book at which point McIntee throws her right into the conspirators.

McIntee does some interesting things with the Doctor here, having his constant name dropping actual get him into trouble.  Russia at this time is incredibly suspicious to outsiders and the aristocracy, and the Third Doctor is perhaps one of the most aristocratic versions of the Doctor.  There are those immediately convinced he’s working for British Intelligence and his name dropping of Lethbridge-Stewart only bring this right to the forefront.  It’s the Doctor who causes this books plot to occur in the first place, yet for the most part he takes more of a standard action hero role as Liz and Jo both get the spotlight.  Jo here is portrayed with excellent to contrast with Liz, showing both of their intelligences and how they differ.  For lack of a better phrase, Jo is the “street smarts” to the “book smarts” of Liz (who has quite a few thoughts on how odd Jo is for an assistant).  Rasputin is the one who gets Jo under his spell, allowing her and the audience to sympathize with a much maligned figure from history.  Rasputin has always been characterized as some villain throughout history, yet like many figures, the man behind the myth is quite a bit different.  McIntee portrays him as much as the manipulator as well as a deeply holy man.  He doesn’t want to see bad things happen and genuinely has good intentions.  He is too short sighted to the Tsar and Tsarina to see what is happening out there.  He also has less desirable qualities: a womanizer and an alcoholic to boot, he’s a perfect example of how to write a complex character.  Jo isn’t taken in by any mystical means, but by the very human character she is presented with.  Overall, The Wages of Sin shows a glimpse into what might have been had pure historicals been done in the Pertwee era.  8/10.

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