Paul Magrs does it again. Another zany imaginative story, another set of mysterious circumstances and characters, another adventure with Iris Wildthyme.
Like Interference before it, The Blue Angel follows multiple plots at once which don’t quite converge until the end. As usual, the Doctor is separated from his companions, Fitz and Compassion, for much of the story. Iris’ goings-on plus a Federation ship and command crew (obviously spoofing the crap out of Star Trek) also get featured prominently throughout the book. The heart of the story is in the city of Valcea, where a powerful being called Daedalus rules over the fragile Glass Men and prepares to take over a transdimensional region called the Encalve. As we slowly learn throughout the book, this Enclave is connected to the regular universe and an alternate Obverse via time-space corridors, like wormholes or threads connecting disparate realities, resulting in all sorts of mysterious incursions from universe to another, such a giant owls attacking old ladies in a British shopping mall.
And yet, amidst this chaos, there are several coherent plots being undertaken by various parties. The crew of the Federation ship Nepotist are trying to protect the galactic federation from incursion from the Enclave; Ian (the titular blue angel) is trying to return to Daedalus his father; the giant owls are searching for the hatchling of a forbidden egg; other races of the Enclave are also pursuing their particular goals. Paul Magrs paints several vivid pictures for the Doctor and company to interact with and explore but intentionally holds us back from the big picture – we never fully understand the entirety of what’s going on, or even how all the plot threads turn out in the end. Like the Doctor and Fitz and Compassion, the reader is “saved” by Iris Wildthyme, chucked out of the Enclave and sent back to the TARDIS just before it’s too late. It’s frustrating for people like me who most enjoy getting that big picture of the story world, but also intriguing – what follow-up might be offered in the next EDA book? Magrs did write one more EDA book but it’s so far away from this in the series that one can’t count on it shedding any more light on this story, even though this book did have a number of references back to his previous (first) contribution to the EDA range, The Scarlet Empress.
The greatest unsolved mystery in this book is the “winter-time” plot thread which seems to be a set of alternative reality characters. In these chapters/scenes, the Doctor lives in a small village with distant memories of his adventures. Fitz and Compassion live with him, Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 as “Sally” and “Canine” live nearby, in the same building as Iris. Somehow Sally writes a fiction novel of the “real” Doctor and Iris, much to their shock and alarm. How this parallel plot connects to the rest of the novel is not established. It is hinted that this is a dream world; it is hinted that this is the Doctor in his future, being looked after by Iris while he’s recovering from something; it could also be a metaphor for what happened in the book’s backstory between Iris and Daedalus that sets the events of the whole book in motion to begin with. This, most of all, is what I hope gets some explanation in a future book, since it was such a prominent plot thread throughout the whole novel.
The new companion in this novel is Compassion. Her character was introduced in Interference as an agent of the Remote, who work(ed) for Faction Paradox. None of that backstory is rehashed in this book, though. She is in rehabilitation, so to speak. The trouble is, she was a rather bland character to begin with (as indeed all of the Remote ended up) who received a little character development through the Interference books, but now is sort of drowned out in the zaniness of Magrs’ story writing. Compassion, despite her name, comes across as a rather cold, impassive, practical character. It seems almost a step backward from where her character was going in the previous books. Clearly the Doctor is trying to help her regain her humanity, but he’s not having any success in this story. She can’t even regain a personality; she remains a quiet enigma. I haven’t completely spoiled her story arc for myself, but I am aware that this character has places to go and things to do in these books eventually, so let’s just wait and see what happens next with her.
It was good and fun to see Fitz back. It was worrying to see him turned into a bland Remote character through the Interference books, reduced to “code boy” and finally just Kode. It seemed like a deus ex machina to have the TARDIS restore his original personality at the end of those books, except it was left vague as to how well that process would work. Fortunately for this reader’s entertainment (and unfortunately for the suspension of belief), Fitz seems to be all back to his old self, complete with flirting with Iris and still chuckling over Sam Jones’ erstwhile crush on the Doctor some years before he met them. As much as I liked the character of Sam when I started reading the EDA’s just over ten years ago, I think I have to admit I enjoy Fitz’s character even more.
In many ways, this book could better be described as one of the continuing adventures of Iris Wildthyme featuring the Doctor, rather than the other way round. Iris is at the center of this story, in the backstory, and presumably in the unseen continuation and resolution of the situation in Valcea and the Enclave at large. The Doctor gets called in, dragged around, and shunted off before he gets himself killed. That’s why he (and, frustratingly, we) never quite get the whole picture sorted out. It’s refreshing every now and then to get a Doctor Who story told from different angle from normal, and Paul Magrs (the creator of the character of Iris) obviously likes to feature his zany trans-temporal adventuress. Having heard Iris in action in a couple Big Finish audio stories by this point, I was more able to appreciate her character without feeling like I had to take her too seriously.
Finally, the Doctor himself… again, because this book is more about the adventures of Iris, there’s a lot left unsaid about the Doctor and his general context and situation. The fact that he had been infected with a Faction Paradox DNA virus thingy in the previous book was not mentioned here, nor were there any clear signs of its dirty work. We’re still being held in suspense regarding what is going to happen to him, what he has found out about the Faction or the Time Lord’s future war, or the universe-in-a-bottle that he presumably stole from I.M. Foreman. He takes a beating, though, injured by the destruction of the Glass City, separated from the TARDIS and his friends for a potential eternity, and ending up very angry with Iris for pushing him around. Again, we just have to wait and see what happens in the next book to see how he’s coping with everything the EDA writers are throwing at him, and what will come of all the revelations of the previous few books…