Friday, February 28, 2020

At Childhood's End by: Sophie Aldred, Mike Tucker, and Stephen Cole

The announcement in late 2019 that Sophie Aldred would be writing a Doctor Who novel with the Thirteenth Doctor meeting an older Ace, my interest was immediately piqued.  The fate of Ace is one of those plot threads which has had several possible endings throughout the years, and At Childhood’s End implies that this will be one final resolution to the Doctor and Ace’s story, and in a way it is.  Sophie Aldred’s novel has two interludes going back to the Seventh Doctor and Ace, where Ace sees her potential futures from her travels with Benny and Hex, her time on Gallifrey, to her death in Ground Zero and effectively retconning all of the expanded universe minus the Past Doctor Adventures novels (specifically those by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry) which are referenced.  However, this is not quite the cut and dry case of cutting everything as Timewyrm: Genesys opens with Ace recovering from a mindwipe very easily creating an excuse for perhaps why Ace remembers leaving at this point.  Now that that note on continuity is out of the way, At Childhood’s End actually does resolve the relationship between the Doctor and Ace incredibly well.  Dorothy McShane hasn’t seen the Doctor in years and is currently living on Earth running A Charitable Earth, changed by her travels, when an alien invasion and trouble starts occurring.  The plot of people being abducted by aliens and the UFO by the moon, while incredibly basic, is merely the support for the character work as Ace meets the Thirteenth Doctor.

Ace’s reaction to the Doctor’s new appearance isn’t unexpected, she understands regeneration, but wasn’t expecting somebody so different to her professor.  There is a perfect contrast between the Seventh and Thirteenth Doctor’s, which works to highlight that while the Seventh Doctor was the master manipulator, manipulation is still a character trait the Doctor possesses.  There is this great exchange between Ace and Yaz that really deconstructs the idea that while the Doctor is rarely the one who commits acts of violence, they are often a character who gets others to do it for them.  Seeing the older Dorothy McShane, however, really shows how important the Doctor’s impact on Ace was.  A Charitable Earth really does make a difference and works as both an international charity and a connection to UNIT, Torchwood, and Counter Measures, the three big secret government organizations of the Doctor Who Universe.  There is almost an implication that Dorothy has run in with all three organization, bringing an older Ace and Captain Jack meeting into possibility.  There’s also the continuation of Ace’s experimentation with explosives, refining her Nitro 9 into Nitro 90, and really using her inventions for good overall.  There is a maturity to this Ace which only comes from the fact that this was a book written by the character herself, Sophie Aldred.  It is a brilliant examination of who the character is and what motivates her own actions.

The author of At Childhood’s End is credited to Sophie Aldred, but Mike Tucker and Stephen Cole are also credited as authors on the title page (thought the copyright is exclusively Aldred’s).  While there can only be speculation, I believe the contributions from Tucker and Cole are on specific continuity matters and perhaps assistance with the characterization of the current TARDIS team.  There are quite a few references to other eras of the show including The Android Invasion, The Day of the Doctor, and Torchwood.  The characterization of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor reflects much of the development that she has had in Series 12, still the easily excitable incarnation of the Doctor who cares deeply for her friends, but there is a certain unease about her.  Once she reunites with Ace, she puts on a face of being incredibly happy to see her old friend, but there is an effect on her, perhaps a twinge of guilt and regret of everything she had to put Ace through.  When trouble starts, she immediately puts these feelings aside and remembers why she travelled with Ace in the first place, because they make a good team.  The dynamic between them is excellent and this portrayal of the Thirteenth Doctor is clearly intended to be performed by Whittaker, making it a bit of a shame that this is a book and not a television script.

Graham, Ryan, and Yaz all have their own parts to play as well with the novel’s 290-page count being used to great effect to ensure that each companion has something to do.  The book is structured like a typical Seventh Doctor three-episode story, and each companion gets several subplots in helping with the main plot.  Graham and Ryan perhaps have the best characterization as the novel’s main source of comic relief while Yaz is used as an almost reflection of Ace.  There’s this moment late in the book where the Doctor gets Yaz back into the TARDIS just so that she could save her life, which is almost the reflection of Seven putting Ace in danger for his own ends.  Graham also gets to be the caring grandfather and be given several subtle moments to shine outside of his comic relief with Ryan.  The supporting characters are also excellent from conspiracy nut Kim Fortune, to astronaut Will Buckland, and Chantelle.  Chantelle is actually the character Squeak who appeared in Survival and much of her life reflects the work of Andrew Cartmel, in watching someone’s life fall apart via Cat’s Cradle: Warhead and Warlock.  The villain of the novel also works incredibly well as a foil for Ace’s charitable efforts, but as this novel has only been out for a few weeks I shall go no further in spoilers.

At Childhood’s End is not perfect, however, as the prose itself varies in quality.  It starts off incredibly well, focusing solely on Ace as she investigates the various goings on with plenty of internal monologue.  At the halfway point cracks begin to show, with several points of the book being encumbered with clunky dialogue and some descriptions that just feel out of place in a book like this.  There is literally a reference to Anime eyes which just jolt you out of the narrative when you come across it, and honestly it takes down what should be a brilliant novel.  Overall, At Childhood’s End proves that while the writing isn’t always the strongest Sophie Aldred is definitely a good storyteller, and the story it tells closes one chapter in Ace’s life.  There is room for Aldred to write a follow-up if the ideas are there, as it is overall an engaging and enlightening read.  8/10.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Death of Art by: Simon Bucher-Jones - A Re-Review

There is often a reason as to why I decide to give a novel a second look and a second chance at review.  Often it’s because I’ve heard other’s opinions and perhaps felt I was a bit too harsh or the review perhaps wasn’t one of my best pieces of writing, but this time we have a re-review that is something different.  The Death of Art is the fifty-fourth New Adventure and the only New Adventure by one Simon Bucher-Jones and as far as I know the only book review of mine which has been seen by the author himself, so hi Simon, I hope you’re reading and if you don’t like this I can look forward to some excellent remarks about envy, my male member, and my perceived age from your followers.  Yes, The Death of Art is the only review where I actually got quite a bit of pushback, and with a low, low score of a 2/10 equivalent and a continuous accidental referral to the author as Butcher-Jones, I understand where the negative feeling comes from.  On reread, the author would be at least happy to know that I have found more to appreciate in The Death of Art even if the book on the whole is still incredibly flawed.  Bucher-Jones’s first novel’s largest issue is a writing style which is not only incredibly dense, but includes a story that perhaps isn’t suited to Doctor Who.  Often it is said that the Seventh Doctor is one who while not always being in the foreground has an always felt presence, and The Death of Art’s greatest misstep is failing to do this.  The Doctor is not present for much of the early portions of the novel and it really isn’t until the second half of the book where it actually feels like this is a Doctor Who book.

The dense style Bucher-Jones executes in The Death of Art gives the early portions of the novel an especially difficult pace, not helped by certain diversions in the plot which really don’t move things around.  The novel opens with a “Chapter 0” that is essentially a prologue in everything but name, and that chapter could easily be cut without losing anything.  Bucher-Jones’ book at its core is a mystery, but the actual mystery doesn’t have a real inciting incident until about 50 or 60 pages into the 276-page novel.  Once the mystery actually begins the writing style becomes more suitable to what the story is trying to do, reflecting mystery stories of the 1800s such as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue.  The setting of the novel is Victorian Paris which becomes incredibly evocative for the mysterious goings on with the Brotherhood of Imminent Flesh and a bridge in the Psi Powers arc of the book.  Bucher-Jones straddles two main villainous groups throughout the book, the Family and the Quoth.  The Quoth (as in quoth the raven nevermore) are one of those very New Adventures races with almighty power and their own dimensional plane of existence.  They are the weaker villains, being evocative in places of Ben Aaronovitch’s People from The Also People, done poorly.  Had Bucher-Jones cut the scenes in Quoth space perhaps he could have used them in a more Lovecraftian, cosmic horror sense, being an indescribable race trying to break into the universe proper.

The Family on the other hand work well as a threat, with Montague acting as the man in charge.  He is a toymaker who displays psychic powers, as many of the villains and supporting characters in this arc, and has become influenced by the Quoth.  Bucher-Jones writes an unsettling villain here and the rest of the Family and members of the Brotherhood are excellent.  The Shadow Directory is also an evocative aspect of the story though sadly not used to full effect here.  The Doctor and Chris also feel in their element as they investigate the mysterious goings on in Paris, revealed to be several instances of murder and conspiracy as the story goes on.  Roz sadly seems to fall into a more cliché portrayal here, with her plot of being kidnapped and shoved into the catacombs of Paris where she meets a blind man just feels out of place.  Overall, The Death of Art while definitely better than I initially gave it credit for, shows potential for Simon Bucher-Jones as an author but is utterly skippable and wedged between two greats (Return of the Living Dad and Damaged Goods). 4/10.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp by: Philip Martin directed by: Ron Jones

Mindwarp stars Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicola Bryant as Peri, Michael Jayston as the Valeyard, and Linda Bellingham as the Inquisitor with Brian Blessed as King Yrcanos, Nabil Shaban as Sil, and Christopher Ryan as Kiv.  It was written by: Philip Martin and directed by: Ron Jones, with Eric Saward as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 4 to 25 October 1986 on BBC1.

Attempting to pull together a fourteen-episode story arc for the 23rd season of Doctor Who was not a task without its pitfalls and dangers.  The longest story to this point had been The Daleks’ Master Plan, twenty years earlier and even then that was a story where the overall plot was written by Terry Nation, but the actual episodes were written by Nation and ex-script editor Dennis Spooner.  The decision was made by John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward to make The Trial of a Time Lord a story with four distinct segments which could easily be split between different writers with Robert Holmes penning the first four episodes.  The second block became Parts Five to Eight, was designated the production code 7B, and writing duties were given to Philip Martin who had written Vengeance on Varos for Season 22.  Martin provides the season with a return to the some of the ideas he didn’t explore in Vengeance on Varos, mainly the society of Mentors represented in that story by Nabil Shaban’s Sil.  The Mentors of Thoros Beta are set up as extreme capitalists, only caring about what can increase their own profits and allow the highest members of society to flourish and live longer.  The title of the story is Mindwarp, referring to the experiments being held to give the Lord Kiv’s consciousness a new body, as his mind is outgrowing his body.

Christopher Ryan’s turn as Kiv creates an incredibly slimy character who grasps onto his power at the top and becomes controlling of everyone around him.  Kiv as a character doesn’t get much backstory, and Martin doesn’t entirely explain just what he is a lord of, but it is clear that he and Sil are meant to represent the elite class on Thoros Beta.  Kiv has hired a team of surgeons who are tasked with finding him a new body, all while he is still working on expanding his own profits.  He even has a silent team of slaves which carry him and the other mentors around, with discrimination on those from Thoros Alpha being displayed at several points within the story.  He’s a character who plays with the lives of others and is totally uncaring as his motivation is to survive and make more money.  Nabil Shaban’s return to the role of Sil is equally as slimy, as unlike Vengeance on Varos where Sil was on top, Mindwarp casts him as the underling to Kiv.  Sil is duplicitous and scheming, and is ready to overthrow Kiv, and is really only held back by the fact that Kiv’s guards would kill him given the chance.  Being placed in the role of a henchman gives Shaban the chance to flex more comedic skills as Sil is constantly perplexed and has all of his plans circumvented, walking on eggshells metaphorically as he really can’t do anything to save Kiv.

The surgeon brought in to attempt to save Kiv is Crozier played by Patrick Ryecart.  Ryecart is an actor most well known for comedic roles, however, here he gives a fairly dramatic turn as the surgeon.  The performance is tinged with minor moments of insanity, giving the character an undertone of a mad scientist, motivated by the perfecting of his ability to transfer the conscious mind of one into the empty mind of another.  He’s essentially on the search for immortality and Kiv is his prime suspect.  Ryecart’s interactions with the Doctor in particular show some depth to the character, as he offers the Doctor every opportunity to find a suitable subject to use to transfer the Lord Kiv’s brain into.  Rounding out the guest cast is the eventual leader of the resistance Brian Blessed.  Yes.  Brian Blessed was in Doctor Who and it is just as over the top as you might expect.  Martin has given Blessed plenty of material to work with and of course his over the top style of acting is perfect.  Yrcanos of Krontep is a warlord with a real thirst for battle, with plenty of war cries and hilarious moments, but there are still some slight subtleties to the performance.  Blessed is a talented actor with range, even though he is typecast as the over the top shouty types.  While it isn’t enough to support the eventual reveal of Peri’s fate in The Ultimate Foe, Yrcanos is a fine character with an interesting dynamic to Peri.

Speaking of Peri, as this is Nicola Bryant’s last story, it is fitting that it has her best performance with Colin Baker.  Peri here is mostly in the background for the first half of Mindwarp, up until the Doctor seemingly switches sides and we see for the first time a Peri Brown who has had enough of the Doctor.  She no longer trusts him and had things gone differently there would be plenty of material to attempt to regain that trust.  Peri’s eventual fate is some of the darkest and most riveting material in Doctor Who and through Bryant’s performance, some fast paced direction from Ron Jones, and a look from Colin Baker, the final ten minutes of the final episode of Mindwarp are some of Doctor Who at its absolute best.  Martin’s script also serves the Doctor incredibly well, though this is mostly seen through the excellently integrated trial sequences.  The Doctor is convinced that what is being viewed has been altered, and that he doesn’t remember any of the events as they occur.  Of course this is denied by the Valeyard as the Matrix cannot be wrong.  Colin Baker is absolutely brilliant as both the confused Doctor and the darker version of the character seen in the events, and unlike The Twin Dilemma where he comes across as harsh, this is clearly an unhinged character.  On a final note Michael Jayston and Linda Bellingham serve as necessary narrators to events, Jayston’s Valeyard in particular being the clever one that gets the Doctor right into a position for him to lose the trial.  The Inquisitor’s defense of why Peri had to die is perfectly given by Bellingham as well, really defining the character who has appeared since in Big Finish’s Gallifrey spinoff series.  Overall, Mindwarp is the highlight of Season 23 and is perhaps Colin Baker’s best television outing, showing that even in these dark times Doctor Who still has life left.  10/10.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Millennium Shock by: Justin Richards

When it comes to writing novels there is something incredibly reliable about seeing the name Justin Richards in the author slot.  Richards is not an author to push the boundaries of Doctor Who storytelling or to completely shift the world to a different viewpoint, but he is one that knows how to tell a good story.  He’s a storyteller, content to entertain for a book and give you a good time with some fun characters so if you’re in charge of BBC Books and you have a book fall through so you need a backup, Justin Richards is a good person to turn to get a book out in a pinch.  It is these circumstances in which Millennium Shock was written, and to be honest Richards uses the limited time frame he had to write to his advantage.  The novel is a sequel to his Virgin Missing Adventure System Shock, opening the prologue with the epilogue to the previous book to give any first-time readers information of the previous novel they may need to know.  With the prologue out of the way the book itself is allowed to tell its own story, one that is similar in style but almost superior to System Shock as it uses its limited page count usefully and wisely.

Much like System Shock, Millennium Shock is a techno thriller dealing with the Voracians attempting to regain their position and re-poison the fledgling internet at the turn of the millennium.  As this is dealing with the turn of the millennium, Richards brings in real world fears about the Y2K bug which was predicted to cause widespread outages as computer coding wouldn’t be able to turn the year for the new millennium, as in many cases the year was shortened to the final two digits.  While in reality, very little actually came of the Y2K bug, but fictionalizing it into a tense setting and front for an alien invasion is excellent.  It creates an easy touchstone for the reader to grasp onto and explore some really fun character moments.  Richards fills the book with plenty of suspense as the Voracians are slowly converting people, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style to their own plot giving portions of the book not only a sense of heightened suspense, but also a sense of body horror as people are altered and lose their agency.  Their reptilian nature are also reflected in their tactics as the Voracians have slithered their way into influencing the British government and several other big British businesses.  This makes it incredibly difficult for the Doctor to get an upper hand as the Voracian force is able to turn the rest of the country against him.

Much of the second half of the novel sees the Doctor on the run with Harry Sullivan.  Yes, Richards brings Harry into proceedings this time around, using the older version of the character and setting this for the Doctor after The Deadly Assassin.  Richards uses Harry here to show just how much respect the Doctor has for the character.  On television Harry is most famous for his blunder in Revenge of the Cybermen, but the character is much more than that.  He’s working for MI5 and has matured as a person into showing that he does have a set of skills which are an asset to the Doctor in nearly every situation.  He’s also gotten a comfortable life for himself, with a housekeeper who the audience becomes attached to and several characters who are mutilated around him.  Harry almost appears here like an older, less witty, James Bond.  The Doctor is also  characterized excellently by Richards, feeling quite comfortable dealing with his old friend and with an old enemy.  Richards perfectly captures the alien nature of Tom Baker’s performance in the role and his absolutely manic energy is a highlight.  As this is post The Deadly Assassin the Doctor is just kind of wandering the universe in search of danger and literally materializes the TARDIS directly into trouble.  This first scene with the Doctor really shows where the character is and fits well with what he’s done.  Overall, Millennium Shock is an excellent piece of pulp fiction that somehow manages to be a near perfect Past Doctor Adventure, even when written on a time crunch.  9/10.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Shogun by: James Clavell

Historical fiction is not a genre which I often read, not for any adequate reason other than it doesn’t pique my interest.  The past of course can be just as fantastic and thought provoking of any fantasy or science fiction, so there really isn’t much of an excuse for my neglect of the genre as a whole, so when I was gifted Shogun by James Clavell I was intent on giving it a fair shake as an entry point into the genre.  This perhaps was a rather daunting task: clocking in at 1,300 pages Shogun can only accurately be described as a historic epic depicting the culture clash in seventeenth century Japan when British pilot Paul Blackthorne is marooned on the islands and forced to integrate into the culture.  Clavell has clearly done his research when it comes to the historic setting and he has implemented a plot which closely follows actual historical events, with some exaggeration and artistic license, yet on the whole things remain accurate.  This is especially impressive when you realize that the novel was released in 1975, meaning that there is a sheer amount of time spent ensuring that the details were correct.  This doesn’t mean that Clavell’s writing is perfect by any means, Shogun is a novel which suffers from going overboard on the epic nature of the story.  When you really start to examine the story contained in the 1,300 pages, you begin to notice some real flaws with the style that Clavell employs and the sense of flow from one event to the next.

What I mean here is that while Clavell follows Blackthorne as he is introduced to Japanese culture at the same time and pace as Blackthorne, learning the intrinsic details of how the culture functions, how foreigners are expected to behave, and various other cultural aspects.  The issue with this, however, is not the dense nature of the culture, but at several points in the novel where events and aspects of culture are repeated, or introduced when the focus is not on Blackthorne.  This gives these passages away from Blackthorne’s perspective to often seem unnecessary, even when they clearly aren’t for other events.  Removal of these non-diegetic explanations in many cases would not only assist in the flow of the novel, but also assist in bringing down the page count.  That isn’t to say the large amount of the book is too much of a problem: Shogun is a novel that tells an epic story about how a man is brought to the worst point in his life and has to find a way to survive in this foreign land.  Clavell should also be praised for presenting a nuanced look at the Japanese culture of the 1600s with regards to gender and sexual politics, religious politics, and their general stance on their place in the world.  A lesser author would automatically insert his own opinions on this culture in keeping with the cultural norms that they know, which Clavell avoids.  Generally, he allows the culture to speak for itself which assists in making Shogun work as a novel for a modern audience.

Where the novel excels is in its intense political and character drama.  Clavell uses Shogun to show just how people can overcome there preexisting notions of other cultures on all sides and really explores all of his players.  Overall, Shogun is a 1,300 page epic that’s merit can be easily digested and provides at least a riveting time.  It isn’t a book that would be suitable for everyone, though most will enjoy quite a lot of the plot and characters presented by Clavell, earning at least a look to see if it’s right for you.  8/10.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet by: Robert Holmes directed by: Nicholas Mallett

The Mysterious Planet stars Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicola Bryant as Peri, Michael Jayston as the Valeyard, and Linda Bellingham as the Inquisitor with Tony Selby as Sabalom Glitz and Joan Sims as Queen Katryca.  It was written by: Robert Holmes and directed by: Nicholas Mallett, with Eric Saward as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 6 to 27 September 1986 on BBC1.

The end of Season 22 brought several changes to the regime of Doctor Who.  Colin Baker’s first season in the role had enjoyed an average of 7.2 million weekly viewers, which was on par with the previous two seasons, but several complaints to the BBC about the violence and sexual content of the season, as well as Michael Grade’s disdain for the program which led to an eighteen month hiatus.  This hiatus would be the first visible death knell for the program, which would only enjoy four more seasons before the eventual 1989 cancellation.  This hiatus came at an inopportune time for producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward who had already planned Season 23, now being forced to abandon plans for a new four-story season totaling 14 twenty-five minute episodes.  As the show was on trial with the higher ups at the BBC, and as the originally planned Season 23 would go against the direction higher ups wished the show to pursue, Nathan-Turner and Saward devised The Trial of a Time Lord, a fourteen episode season where the Doctor would once again be put on trial, with three four-part stories making up the trial, and a final two-part finale closed the season under an umbrella title.  The Mysterious Planet is name given to the serial’s first story and was handed to veteran writer Robert Holmes.

Robert Holmes is my absolute favorite writer for Doctor Who, and the opinion at the time agreed with me, penning such classics as The Caves of Androzani, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Spearhead from Space, and The Deadly Assassin among others.  He was already on contract to contribute a three-part, 45 minute episode story featuring the Master, the Rani, and the Autons for Season 23 tentatively titled Yellow Fever and How to Cure It for Season 23, but when asked for a different script, Holmes returned to previous work for inspiration.  The Mysterious Planet is a story whose script is made up of several aspects of other stories Holmes wrote or script edited.  The idea of a robotic intelligence selecting those of high intelligence is straight from The Krotons, the idea of an artificial intelligence with a god complex and two factions with opposing levels of technology are from The Face of Evil, Glitz and Dibber are clearly a double act straight out of The Talons of Weng-Chiang or The Ribos Operation, and the idea of a Time Lord secret being hidden is from The Deadly Assassin.  Running a story of greatest hits sadly does not help set this story arc apart from the others and The Mysterious Planet is not one of Holmes’s best.  Luckily, as Holmes’s best are often the best stories in the show’s history, being below average for Holmes has a tendency to be above average for several other writers.

The plot deals with the Doctor being placed on trial with the Valeyard, played by Michael Jayston, serving as prosecutor, as the constant interference is “behavior unbecoming of a Time Lord”.  The story is told through the Valeyard’s testimony, a Matrix extract dealing with the Doctor’s interference on the planet Ravalox, which should be a wasteland, but has two distinct civilizations (one above and one underground) and unravelling a secret.  The eventual reveal is that Ravalox is in fact the planet Earth, millions of years in the future and moved from its regular orbit.  Holmes implies that the Time Lords could have something to do with this state of Earth, setting up an intended story arc throughout the trial that the evidence is being manipulated.  There is still the usual wit to be found with any of Holmes’ script, allowing the story to balance both light-hearted and heavy subject matter as the destruction of Earth is a dark idea, and the climax builds to the robot Drathro ready to allow the universe to be destroyed.  This plot, however, is a pretty standard story that has been done before, though here it is elevated by some interesting characters.  Of particular note, Tony Selby and Glen Murphy as Sabalom Glitz and Dibber respectively are a classic Holmes double act.  Selby in particular has excellent chemistry with both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, shining through a plot where in his nature as a rouge, he is attempting to steal secret information hidden on Ravalox about why the Earth was given this fate.

It really is the trilogy of Glitz, the Doctor, and Peri which elevate the Ravalox story in my eyes.  Every other performer either is too over the top to take the script seriously, or are performing in too much of an understated manner to really make the story memorable.  There’s a second double act of characters from the planet who are supposed to be funny, but come across as annoying.  Colin Baker is excellent with Nicola Bryant as both indicate that the Doctor and Peri have been travelling with each other for a while and have sparkling chemistry.  Where the character of the Doctor fails is the scenes in the courtroom.  The opening shot and introduction of the trial as a plot device work well enough and director Nicholas Mallett should be commended on the model work, but the constant cutting back and forth just gets in the way.  The pacing is off because of the interruptions and while Mallett is great at directing the Ravalox plot, the courtrooms scenes are uninspired, especially in the cliffhanger zooms which feel like a decree from on high.  The Valeyard and the Inquisitor are the only two characters with the Doctor in the courtroom scenes and while Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham are enjoyable, they are one-note here.  The Valeyard is a stereotypical villain and the Inquisitor is really just there as a mediator.  These scenes feel as if Holmes hadn’t been given the trial scenario until the very last minute.  Overall, The Mysterious Planet feels like a rushed production script wise, with some great performances making it at least worth a watch.  It begins a story arc and John Nathan-Turner’s desperate attempts to save the show, which at least were a success for a few years despite the BBC going against him.  6/10.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sky Pirates! by: Dave Stone - A Re-Review

Sometimes when you read a book things will just go over your head and perhaps you won’t appreciate what an author it attempting to do with a book.  Sky Pirates! is perhaps one of the Doctor Who novels which illustrates this fact perfectly.  In my initial review, I lambasted Dave Stone’s style of long and Tolkeinesque prose, however, on reread I found that many of my issues with the novel came down to my own impatience when reading.  Stone’s prose is lyrical in nature, full of incredibly dense paragraphs and many allusions and metaphors to classic literature which is all in aid of Stone’s major goal in this novel.  The point of Sky Pirates! is to tell a Doctor Who story that is examining the mythology of the show up until this point, partially reflecting on what the Virgin New Adventures had done with the Doctor and the Time Lords.  While I will admit this is something that Steve Lyons would later tackle to greater effect in Head Games, Stone’s own analysis is incredibly interesting and acts almost as precursor to Russell T. Davies’ era of Who and Big Finish’s Charley Pollard, web of time story arc.  There is this idea explored that the plot of this novel is all down to Time Lord conspiracy: Gallifrey has fought in several Time Wars in the past, and they will eventually fight one, mostly to stop species which have the potential to develop time travel.  There’s also a lot on the idea that Gallifrey influenced the universe’s evolution into mostly humanoid races.

This idea that the Time Lords interfere to stop people who may threaten their lordship was occasionally touched on in the classic series, but Stone expands it by including several hints that the Doctor’s own influence may be to blame for this.  There’s this metaphor introduced in the final third of the novel of how the idea of Zeus changed from Greece to Rome, from a brash and angry god to one that is lazy.  This feels very much like a reflection on the transition between the Sixth to the Seventh Doctor, especially when you take into account Season 24 and the development that the Seventh Doctor has undergone.  There is this idea that the Doctor has been waiting for his time to shine, planning in the shadows for some great final master plan.  Stone drops the ball on ever explaining just what this master plan may be, but it is implied to involve the Sloathes in some capacity.  Stone also pairs the Doctor with Benny for much of the novel which is an interesting pairing.  Benny in this book has a more comedic portrayal as Stone writes, not quite comic relief, but there are several moments and footnotes which are extracts from Benny reflecting back on the adventure in a large capacity.  Stone almost implies that Benny is narrating this book from some time after her travels with the Doctor, compiling gaps in her memory from historical records, but definitely put in the realm of fiction.

Sky Pirates! is also the first proper adventure for Adjudicators Chris and Roz who I initially criticized for being so different from their portrayal in Original Sin, and while it isn’t as strong, it is by no means a bad portrayal.  Stone does an excellent job of capturing the innocence of Chris Cwej’s character, still recovering from the body bepple from the previous novel, and shifting his own form at several points in the novel.  Roz on the other hand works just as well as the paranoid Adjudicator who takes absolutely no nonsense, and is of course placed in a situation where everything is nonsense.  The supporting characters are almost parodies of actual characters which allows Stone to set the tone for the book and integrate the copious footnotes into the text better than most.  At least once a chapter there is a footnote either dedicated to world building, giving some explanation to a character’s backstory, or even just telling a joke, which could easily have fallen flat, and only really works if you’re reading the book in print, but Stone does an excellent job of not overloading them.  Overall, Sky Pirates! is a novel which I initially disregarded as an overly long piece of writing that didn’t know it’s own good, but now I see it as a decent exploration of the VNAs as a whole.  7/10.