purplecat: The Seventh Doctor (Who:Seven)
There is so much about Battlefield that I really, really like and yet the whole has never really gelled for me and that continued to be the case on this rewatch.

I'm a sucker for the Arthurian legends and I love retellings and different takes and Battlefield has that in spades. I mean, of course, the Doctor is Merlin and it makes so much (ironic) sense for it to be the seventh Doctor who is essentially left cleaning up the mess left by some future incarnation who is leaving him only vague hints about what is going on. I love the way the background in Arthurian myth instantly gives Morgaine a much more complex set of motivations as the antagonist. I love the idea of this blend of magic and technology and chivalry. I love the contrasting brigadiers. I love Doris. I love the relationship between Bambera and Ancelyn.

And yet... and yet...

And yet, mostly, I hate the whole alternative universe part. A lot of the stuff I really like about this episode, the sci-fi twist on the Arthurian legend, the idea of a 20th century resolution to events from, well, probably over a 1,000 years previously that have faded into myth, and in particular the interaction on equal terms of 20th century soldiers with their Arthurian counterparts really would not work without positing that the universe in which the Arthur story played out was at some side-step to our own and yet... Well and yet I don't think the story really does the work to justify the concept. I never really believe in this alternate universe and I dislike the fact we never get any really explanation for how the Arthurian myths exist in our own. I don't like the way no thought has apparently been given to either the vast lifespans Morgaine and her ilk must have or, alternatively, to the time distortion between the the two universes. Are Winifred Bambera and Ancelyn really intended to be linked to Guinevere and Lancelot or this a coincidence or something else? If so how and why and what?

"She's a baddie, isn't she?" said Tame Layman, observing the otherwise apparent superflousness of Shou Yuing. He was a bit non-plussed when he turned out to be wrong, but it is easy to see where this comes from. The character has relatively little purpose in the story. In some ways this is nice, there are quite a few characters and touches in Battlefield that serve relatively little direct purpose but serve to flesh out the characters and themes, and it is impressive to see a story from an era which tended towards the frenetic (and indeed a story that tends somewhat towards the frenetic itself) allow itself the luxury of elements that are not entirely utilitarian in purpose, but the very inconsistency of what aspects are allowed space to breathe and which aspects are glossed over apparently without thought is part of what rankles.

Some of the acting - particularly Bambera and Ancelyn (much as I like them) - is a bit poor. Battlefield suffers, as does so much of 1980s Doctor Who, from a low budget and a lack of time to get things right.

This is such a frustrating story. At one and the same time, I think it is great and feel it is a huge disappointment. Almost more than any other classic story, I'm haunted by the fieeling that this could have been truly and utterly wonderful if there had been more time, and more money, and a little bit more thought.

Tame Layman liked it even though he turned out to be wrong about Show Yuing.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (doctor who)
So, errr, about sixth months ago the JadePagoda decided all to read and review The Many Hands by Paul Dale Smith. I am more than a little late, both in reading it and then in writing this review.

Anyway, consensus of opinion on JP (if I remember back that far accurately) was that it was quite a dull run-around up until page 100 and picked up thereafter. At the risk of sounding shallow, I actually rather enjoyed all the running around and certainly didn't feel that I noticed any sudden shift in quality or tone at the 100 page mark. I'm not sure the running around is entirely pointless either, in particular a fair amount of character work is going on, building up the antagonistic English Captain McAllister and developing his relationship with the Doctor. Certainly it's around page 100 that the more horrific aspects begin to turn up - but this is horror for intelligent eight-year olds so it's not exactly a dramatic shift in tone.

This is a tale of 18th Century Edinburgh, complete with Enlightenment scientists, surgeons, buried streets and body-snatching. There are also zombies which aren't, it has to be said, a particularly Edinburgh thing but this is Doctor Who and obviously, if you're going to have body-snatching, you might as well have zombies too.

Of all the new series Doctor Who books I've read, this is the one I've enjoyed most. I'm not quite sure why. Possibly its because I'm so fond of Edinburgh, and the book is very Edinburgh. Possibly it's because it is the first new series adventure I've actively chosen to read, rather than reading it because I read all Doctor Who novels, and it benefits from being approached on its own terms. Possibly it was the lack of any kidults. I don't think it particularly rises above (what I presume was) its brief as a historical action-adventure runaround but it does what it does very well.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Sick Building by Paul Magrs, has been very well received, at least in my neck of the woods, but I can't for the life of me see why. This book has much in common with his short story in the Doctor Who Storybook 2007 in that there is nothing actually wrong with it in any way, but compared to talking poodles, men transforming into lizards just because, a literally two-dimensional Mike Yates, and a Doctor who is half-human on his mother's side because his mother is a mermaid and so her top half is human this was pretty tame stuff. I wasn't necessarily a huge fan of Paul Magrs other Dr Who books but I was a fan of the fact that this sort of bizarre stuff was being written under the Dr Who banner. It now appears that, stripped of the permission to let his imagination run riot, Magrs is a competent but otherwise uninspiring author.

Sick building is, unsurprisngly, an evil building novel. Our heroes spend much time being menaced (or assisted) by vacuum cleaners, sunbeds and vending machines which, when put that way, makes it seem not so far from talking poodles after all but somehow this feels bereft of the sort of verve and excitement I picked up from Magrs' other works. Certainly the vacuum cleaners etc. don't seem particularly representative, or illustrative, or to be having conceptual fun with or of anything in particular. There is an (almost) obligatory kidult and another mention of the Doctor's apparent preference for Rose over Martha. As an interesting side issue the book was originally entitled The Wicked Bungalow, this being vetoed, by all accounts including his own, by RTD. Since I am at a loss to understand why "Sick Building" is preferable to "The Wicked Bungalow" I can only assume that this must be one of those reasons why I'm not in charge of a vastly successful television brand.


Jan. 9th, 2008 07:26 pm
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Just as I'd pretty much decided to cut my losses and give up the new series books along comes Wetworld by Mark Michalowski challenging me to revise my assumptions. It's about as old school (as in Virgin-Books-a-like) as its possible to be within the confines of the new series, throwing around mentions of adjudicators and world-building the details of the first expansion of humans into space*, even the obligatory kidult is sixteen years old, sensible, independent and could just as easily have been twenty. It is set on the planet Sunday, a swampy world inhabited by what turn out to be suprisingly intelligent otters (though the book is a little inconsistent in its treatment of their intelligence) and a small bunch of colonists all of whom are muddling along more or less happily when a meteor strike brings a strange tentacled monster to the world, followed shortly by the Doctor and Martha. So far so generic Doctor Who, in fact classic series fans will be picturing the Power of Kroll at this point. Be reassured though we are spared anything remotely approximating the swampies from that story, not to mention the attempts of the 1970s BBC special effects department to produce a giant squid.

While the book avoids many of the irritations of its stable-mates, length, if nothing else, prevents it having the level of detail I associate with the old new adventures (though on the plus side since many of them were a good 100 pages longer than their plot or prose could carry, this isn't necessarily a bad thing) and it is forced to be fairly to the point with little time to spare for description or added depth. On the plus sides it has a coherent plot, with interesting ideas and a monster with a sensible agenda and a interesting modus operandum. There was one character who I feared was about to turn into the kind of irritating bureaucrat Dr Who is so often fond of, closed-minded and inclined to respond to crises by locking the Doctor up, but fortunately despite the fact it looked like the story was heading this way he never did get round to arresting the Doctor, or impeding him with unecessary red tape. It's a good Martha book too, she gets to be resourceful and independent without it appearing forced but, on the downside, it also introduces a proto-companion, Ty Benson, who appears to steal some moments that should more appropriately gone to the Martha. This is made more obvious by Martha's clear jealously.

So, all in all, a bit of a mixed bag. Wetworld has flaws, but it is much closer to the kind of Dr Who book I'm interested in reading than almost anything else the new series books have produced. It's good, but not good enough, I don't think, to dissuade me from buying these books more circumspectly in future based on author pedigree and recommendations.

*by this I mean it's set on a colony planet during the first wave. The Virgin New Adventures fleshed out this milieau in a number of books. Wetworld doesn't add anything much to the previous world-building but is clearly singing from the same hymn sheet.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Another day, another new who book, another viewpoint kidult. Once again this one was mostly just a bit bland. It is set in a small sleepy American town the better, I suppose, to capitalise on its Halloween setting, but it really felt just like a sleepy English village with the numbers filed off. This is clearly written as a child friendly horror novel (not unsurprising given that Mark Morris' day job is a horror writer). There is plenty of vivid imagery as various Halloween decorations come to life, but after a fairly creepy start its mostly just generic "mild" peril. Doctor Who, after all, has strong roots in child-friendly horror so its really quite hard to make this sort of fare stand out.

An interesting side-note (for anyone who's been following the "was Martha ill-treated" debate) is a passage where Martha reflects that all conversations with the Doctor inevitably find their way back to Rose. Proof that, whatever the text of the transmitted episodes, the sub-text that so many complained of was definitely intentional. As I understand matters, these books are far too carefully vetted to let something like that slip through unless it was in a briefing document somewhere.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
This particular new series Dr Who adventure had a reasonably good reputation so I was looking forward to it and you know, there's nothing actually wrong with it but I was kind of bored until about page 174 when things suddenly got more interesting thanks to something that is, in fact, so completely obvious it shouldn't count as a twist. I have a feeling Stephen Cole must have had a fanboy conversation at some point in his life where they wondered why the Zygons didn't do X, and here they are doing it.

Anyway, it has Edwardians, and the Lake District, and Zygons and another bl**dy viewpoint bl**dy kidult and the passage "Martha had encountered several alien creatures in her time, and was no stranger to their evil agendas. Yet the Zygons were the first monsters she'd met who forced their prisoners into playing cards." So, you know, it has good points and bad points. But overall these books are rather bland and my completist enthusiasm is taking something of a battering. I already own the next three, and people tell me the quality picks up, but I won't be buying more if doesn't.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
I really want to like Jacqueline Rayner's work. Not simply because she is one of the few women writing Dr Who novels but because she has a distinctive voice and a bittersweet lightness of touch that should make a refreshing change from the more serious-minded and action-oriented output that typifies the range. But somehow her work never really gells for me and I'm left feeling that the comedic aspects have misfired letting down the whole. In the case of the Last Dodo the parts that really grated were those written in the first person from Martha's point of view in a kind of gushing I'm-talking-to-an-eight-year-old fashion. Not only did I simply not find these particular amusing and a little patronising there didn't seem to be any reason why half the story should be told in this fashion and half in the third person, sometimes switching between the two mid-scene. I mean why? why not write it all in the first person from Martha's point of view, or at least write every scene she was in from Martha's point-of-view, or if you must switch then at least provide the framing device of a diary, or writing a letter to a young cousin, or something.

The rest of the book was OK, the characters were pretty one-dimensional (even when they weren't supposed to be), the plot was a fairly straightforward sequence of run-arounds but it was all competent. I can see that its brief descriptions of extinct and endangered species would appeal to much of the target audience. I like the fact that Rayner experiments with story-telling styles, in this case switching points of view. I like the fact she writes about topics she is passionate about. I like the fact that she appreciates that Who story-telling can be both light-hearted and serious at one and the same time. But in the end, as with so many of her books, the parts just never fell together into a satsifying whole for me and I finished with feelings largely of disinterest in the plot and characters and vague irritation at the execution.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Its sort of customary to start reviews of the Dr Who storybooks by mentioning the totally bonkers Dr Who annuals of the 1970s but I figure most people reading here either know all about them or aren't terribly interested. Suffice it to say the storybooks are their successors both in content and, in some cases, bonkersness although the storybooks are bonkers (when they are bonkers) in a canonical way while the 70s Who annuals were mostly just bonkers.

a discussion of the stories and pictures with some digressions: Noel Coward, talking poodles and criticisms of the Isle of Wight all feature )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
This was more like it. Like all the recent Dr Who books Wooden Heart made a very quick read and like many it suffered from a belief that "Kiduldt"s need books with Kidult viewpoint characters but apart from those quibbles this one was well-written and thought-provoking. Genuniely Kiduldt in fact, demonstrating that you can handle complex issues both philosophical and inter-personal within the confines of a Dr Who adventure.

More under cut, but I'll avoid spoilers )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
The Quick Reads books are designed to appeal to adults who, for one reason or another, are anxious about reading. As such they are intended to be short with a limited vocabulary. I can't quite decide whether Terrance Dicks was an inspired choice to author one of these or a result of a misguided identification of "short with a simple vocabulary" with "suitable for children".

Review of Made of Steel )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
I read the Art of Destruction by Stephen Cole on the plane between Chicago and Los Angeles. It was a four hour journey and, given I'm not the fastest of readers, I was quite surprised to find that I finished the book with time to spare. It just goes to show, I suppose, how much slighter the Books written to go with the new Doctor Who series are compared to the full length novels we had become used to.

The Art of Destruction Review )


purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

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