Story Review

Autumn Mist

Autumn Mist was another brutal story for Sam.  The past two books in a row very nearly killed her, and the Doctor and Fitz believed her gone forever; now again the same gloom descended.  Set in World War 2, in the Battle of the Bulge, one would expect a gritty story.  But still, Sam got shot, half-frozen, considered for rape, shot in the heart, and patched together by the Sidhe.  I vaguely remember Sam being on the brink of death in The Janus Conjuction (a planet with radiation that makes people melt slowly), and suspect that there were other examples too.  It’s no wonder she decides to go home at the end of the book (and that the Doctor and Fitz aren’t the least bit surprised).

Continuity

It’s tricky dealing with references back to earlier books, or themes that have threaded through the past 23 novels: the Celestis, biodata and the alternative Sam, Sam’s growth since age 17 in book 1… much of this started in Alien Bodies, which I read in 2006 or 2007.  Thankfully, the most important books for understanding the overall story arc at this point seem to be Unnatural History which I read last month and Interference, which I’m reading next.

There were some fun references in Autumn Mist: Fitz identifies himself as James Bond (more successfully than his first attempt in Demontage).  The Doctor alludes to Benny Summerfield, an “archaeologist from the future” – I really should add The Dying Days to my reading list.  It’s also great fun watching Fitz’s reactions to technology familiar to us (1999 and beyond) but not yet to him (1963); he described a microwave as looking like a TV!

Overall Comments

I’m not sure I’d rank this among my favorites.  3 or 4 out of 5.  The build-up and mystery and pacing was good, and the resolution was satisfactory, but the Sidhe seemed a little too helpful.  I understood that they were wary of humans, but they helped people out a bit too readily solely for the sake of the Doctor and his fixing of the inter-dimensional rift that threatened them.

There was also a neat reference to “the Beast” from The Taint, Fitz’s introductory book.  But, unfortunately, that was a book I didn’t quite understand when I read it a year or two ago.  So the payoff of revisiting its monster and giving it a fuller explanation here was rather lost on me.

If you’re into the EDA book range, I wouldn’t recommend skipping this book; it’s short and it is an important link between Unnatural History and Interference.  But I probably won’t go back and read it again.

Story Review

Gallifrey series 1

Time can be rewritten.”

A few years before Steven Moffatt popularized this phrase and concept, Big Finish Audio Productions started putting out series of stories centered on Gallifrey, chronicling the ins and outs, ups and downs, forwards and backwards of Time Lord politics, and, you guessed it, there’s a lot of meddling with the timelines that goes on.  The Gallifrey series focuses on Lady President Romana, Leela, and their respective K-9 units.  One might fear that a set of stories about Time Lord politics might prove rather dull, and perhaps the early Gallifrey series had mixed reviews for all I know.  But given that there are 8 series now, I suppose it must have had some staying power over the years.

The Background

The first series drops us into the life of Romana as Lady President, some time soon after the events of Zagreus, when the 8th Doctor and his companion Charlotte (Charley) Pollard have a near-catastrophic run-in with anti-time, and exile themselves in a divergent universe, presumably never to be heard from again.  With that background in place, we can be comfortable in the knowledge that the Doctor isn’t going to sweep in and save the day in these stories; the characters of Romana and Leela get to shine on their own merits.

Leela was last seen staying on Gallifrey at the end of The Invasion of Time to marry Andred, a Time Lord guard.  But in series 1 of Gallifrey, Andred has been missing for some time, and presumed dead.  Leela, thus, is turning to the outcast tribes who live outside the capitol, seeking a way of life more akin to her origins before meeting the Doctor.  Of course, she is interrupted by a summons from Romana who is seeking her help in an investigation, and who ends up making her her personal bodyguard for a time.

The Characters

Romana and Leela are a fascinating team.  The former, as an educated Time Lady, is the most knowledgeable and intelligent companion ever seen on Doctor Who.  Leela, on the other hand, is a savage, raised in the jungle, trained as a warrior, with no experience in post-industrial technology nor the finer points of diplomacy; she is a character of instinct and survival skills.  Both aided by their respective versions of K-9, they make for an enjoyable contrast.

It is somewhat odd hearing Romana call Leela a savage so often, as the (4th) Doctor did all those years ago; I for one rather expected Romana to be a bit more courteous and (dare I say) politically correct.  Nevertheless, they both respect one another for who they are, and they recognize one another’s unique strengths and abilities.

The Stories

The four stories of series 1 each are largely independent, though a progression of storytelling weaves through them all.

The first story, Weapon of Choice, deals with the mysterious threat of a timonic fusion device – a weapon of doubtful existence – and the Gallifreyan leadership is scrambling to seize back this weapon apparently stolen from their history.

The second story, Square One, focuses on a peace conference between various timefaring races, and how someone is manipulating the conference with a time loop until their desired outcome is reached.

The third story, The Inquiry, returns to the question of the timonic fusion device: did it really ever exist?  Who made it?  Was it ever tested?  And where is it now?

The fourth story at first feels like an unrelated diversion as Romana is looking into someone meddling with the timeline of Cecilia Pollard, Charlotte’s sister.  But as the story unfolds we find that those involved know not only about the timonic fusion device but also of the fate of Leela’s late husband!

My Impressions

All in all, I’d say these were some clever stories.  I must admit I had trouble keeping the recurring characters straight, even though there weren’t too many of them.  Perhaps I’m only used to having to keep track of one bumbling-if-slightly-mysterious Time Lord politician per story, instead of three.  The time-related stuff (rewriting history, retroactively changing events, recording events from outside spacetime, colliding and combining two different time tracks, etc.) on the whole did make sense to me, but it took a bit more careful listening to keep up with it than most audio stories require of me.  Let’s just say these stories are better listened to while cleaning the kitchen, where you can rewind a few seconds to double-check what was just said, rather than listening in the car where you’re a bit more distracted.

I’ll listen to Gallifrey series 2, and if the stories grab me more, then I’ll look into purchasing more series eventually, too.

Story Review

Excelis

Something you don’t get to see very much in the Doctor Who universe is a story focusing on a locality in which the Doctor is not necessarily the main character.  The 4-part audio mini-series Excelis is one such story.

The Stories

Excelis is a mountaintop city-state on the planet Artaris.  In part 1 it’s a major trade town, in part 2 it’s the capitol of a small kingdom, in part 3 it’s a city-state governing the planet’s largest empire, and in part 4 it’s a besieged city on the brink of destruction.  The 5th through 7th Doctors appear in parts 1 through 3, respectively, and Professor Bernice Summerfield appears in part 4.  Iris Wildthyme is also a major character in parts 1 and 4.  All in all, the casting is simple but effective, giving us familiar faces throughout the story.  It’s also an interesting twist to realize that the Doctor is the audience’s “in” into the story, rather than the Doctor’s companion.

In addition to the Doctor there are other major characters who reappear in various parts of the story – sometimes in person and sometimes reincarnated, so to speak.  They (and the plot devices that allow them to reappear in the story, especially “the relic”) provide a further link from one story to the next, lending a foothold of continuity for us as we proceed through the miniseries.

The Ups & Downs

Upon finishing listening to them, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.  I like a good plot twist ending as much as the next fellow, but this one was a bit too left-field for me.  Parts 1 through 3 seemed to set up one explanation for what “the relic” is, and what’s happening to Excelis and Artaris as a whole because of it.  But part 4 set it into a much larger and vastly different framework, almost as if parts 1-3 were written together, and part 4 was tacked on as an afterthought.  Maybe I missed some clues that might’ve been planted along the way, but I’d have liked to see some hints of the larger-scale plot that was revealed in part 4 before the big reveal at the end.

Still, it was a fun miniseries to zip through.  Iris is an entertaining character, and she made for a truly enjoyable pairing alongside Bernice (Benny) Summerfield.  Even seeing the casting list before I listened to the story, I knew their shared love of drinking and similarly feisty personalities would make for a memorable team.  I’ve heard very little of either of their characters in the Big Finish audios thus far, and their appearance together in part 4 reinforces my few experiences with them – their respective audio series would be fun excursions to explore someday.

Story Review

Blood Harvest

In 1994, after a few years of The New Adventures continuing the life and travels of the 7th Doctor, Ace, and others, some folks decided a new line of books would be in order: alongside the new material with the 7th Doctor, a collection of Missing Adventures would start being written, featuring previous incarnations of the Doctor, and intentionally and clearly set between original television episodes.  In order to better promote and launch the new book series, the novel Blood Harvest was written as a set-up for the first Missing Adventure novel, called Goth Opera.

I had not read many of the NA books before, but I had read the two important character-changing stories in Ace’s life (Love and War and Deceit), so I was prepared for the gun-toting femme fatale who was noteably older and tougher than her earlier self in the television series.  I’d also been introduced to Bernice Summerfield in those two books.  Even if you read this book cold, with no background in the NA series, there aren’t any noticeable references that you’re expected to understand.  Bernice (or Benny) narrates her background sufficiently for a new reader to get the hang of who she is, and getting the hang of Ace carrying a little black gun instead of nitro-9 isn’t really a huge leap of the imagination.

The Plots

So, as for the story itself… this is the first revisit of the Time Lords’ ancient enemy, the great Vampires in all of Doctor Who storytelling.  They were introduced in State of Decay, near the end of the 4th Doctor’s tenure.  It may be debatable among fans how memorable of a story that was, but with the additional development of this book, the Vampire story from ancient Gallifreyan history matures into an excellent storytelling vintage.  More Vampires were on that planet, part of Romana’s stay in E-Space included a desire to keep an eye on that planet, a desire for revenge against the Doctor arose among the surviving Vampire party, and life for the humans on that planet continued to be fraught with political challenges as competing views of how to replace the power vacuum left by the Three Who Rule.

But somehow, the Vampire storyline, and their planet in E-Space, as strong as it is, manages only to be a secondary plot.  The Doctor drops Benny off on that planet to investigate the Vampires because he received a mysterious message about an enemy rising up there, while he and Ace go to 1920’s Chicago to investigate another lead on the same plot.  For much of the book, we’re led to assume that there are vampires conspiring anarchy among the Chicago mob bosses, but eventually the “big bad guy” is revealed to be some other sort of powerful creature named Agonal.  In the same league as the Black & White Guardians and the “Gods of Ragnarok”, Agonal is a generally-immortal creature with malicious intent.

This is book of plots, through and through.  The Doctor is trying to manipulate Al Capone into maintaining peace with the other mob bosses in town.  Someone else (Agonal) is manipulating all the mob bosses to fight one another.  Agonal is conspiring to resurrect the vampires in E-Space, too.  And, as is eventually discovered, a rogue Time Lord element is revealed to be manipulating both Agonal and the Doctor for the purpose of destroying them both and freeing Lord (former President) Borusa from Rassilon’s tomb.

Continuity

Okay, so while you don’t need to have read the New Adventures books in order to understand this novel, I guess you do need to be pretty familiar with the tv lore of Doctor Who, namely State of Decay, Warrior’s Gate, and The Five Doctors for a start.  For someone like me, who loves continuity across the Doctor Who story world, this book is a lot of fun.  If you don’t have a strong memory or background on the classic tv show, though, this book might be a bit dense to keep up with; I’m not sure.

– – –

Over all, I’d say this is an excellent book.  You get vampires, Time Lord conspiracies, three of the best companions of all time (Romana, Ace, and Benny), and a very enjoyable (and often comical) juxtaposition of the Doctor playing it dangerous alongside Al Capone and other gangsters.

Bonus fun: this is one of the rare opportunities where we get to see the Doctor drink alcohol and accept people calling him “Doc.”

 

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The Blog Masterplan

This is my first post for my Doctor Who blog, but this isn’t really the beginning.

My dad introduced me to Doctor Who when I was kid; we watched the original series on PBS together, from the beginning.  The 8th Doctor movie with Paul McGann came out when I was still a kid; he was “my Doctor.”  As a teenager in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I sort of moved on from Doctor Who for a while, and drifted back to it soon before the 2005 revival was announced.  What a happy college student that made me!

In late 2005, having thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Eccleston’s run as the 9th Doctor, I decided to go back and read all of the Eighth Doctor Adventures (73 books in all).  After an enthusiastic start and long lag time, I got back on track with reading them early in 2017.  Now I’ve decided to blog some notes about them along the way.  This means I’ll be looking back on books I’ve already read, as well as writing blog posts about the books I’m reading in the present.

And there are the Big Finish audio adventures which I’ve been listening through.

And, of course, the TV series, old and new.  There’s a lot to talk about.

SPOILERS: Assume everything you read on this blog is going to reveal/spoil important plot developments of the story or stories in question.  In the rare event that I make a spoiler-free post, I’ll label it as such up front.

Being a somewhat organized person (at least with electronic information) I’ll keep an index updated so the stories and eras and other posts can be put in their proper context.

On Fridays I’ll post reviews of individual stories or groups of stories.  Other reaction or thought posts will pop on the occasional Monday.