Book Reviews: Damaged Goods by Russell T. Davies


Author: Russell T. Davies
Title: Damaged Goods
Publication Info: Virgin Book, October 1996
Summary/Review:

Many of the Doctor Who novels published in the 1990s were written by authors who either wrote for the original tv series or would go on to write for the revived series.  This novel is significant in that it’s author Russell T. Davies would go on to be the showrunner who brought Doctor Who back to our tv screens in 2005.  In common with the later tv series, this story is set on a council estate with a family named Tyler.

Much like in Andrew Carmel’s Warlock, a narcotic drug turns out to be an alien force.  In this case, cocaine contains an ancient Gallifreyan weapon called the N-form.  The weapon draws power from a pair of twins separated at birth who are connected by a vampiric waveform.  The whole plot is rather complicated, but it’s setting in the depression and poverty of Thatcher’s Britain is a well-formed world for the Doctor, Chris, and Roz to unlock a mystery and a human tragedy.

Rating: ***1/2

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures:

Book Review: Return of the Living Dad by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
Title: Return of the Living Dad
Publication Info: London : Virgin, 1996
Summary/Review:

In this story, Berenice returns with her newlywed husband Jason to investigate what became of her father.  It’s long been believed that Admiral Isaac Summerfield turned coward in a space battle against the Daleks and died, but new evidence suggest otherwise. Berenice asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to witness the battle and see that her father’s ship is sucked into a wormhole.  Following through, the TARDIS team arrives in a remote English village in 1983.

Isaac and his crew are not surprised to see the Doctor and Berenice, as they’ve been expecting them to arrive one day.  Isaac’s ship arrived 20 years earlier, and in the intervening years he’s opened a cafe and taken up the duty of cleaning up the messes left behind by UNIT and the Doctor himself.  With an Air Force base nearby with nuclear weapons, the village attracts a strange assortment of refugee aliens, paranormal investigators, and anti-nuclear protesters.  Of course, once the Doctor arrives, strange things begin happening as the TARDIS and several people go missing. There’s a mystery to be solved and a traitor or two in their midst.

Kate Orman is one of the best writers of Doctor Who and particularly good at getting at the humanity (or lack thereof) of her characters and their relationships.  It’s surprising that she’s never written for the television series like other New Adventures writers, but perhaps she’s just not keen on scriptwriting.  Nevertheless, aspects of the book are familiar to what would be picked up ten years later in the new tv series, such as the need to clean up after the Doctor’s adventures, and the nodding winks to fan culture.

Since this is an Orman novel, it also has approximately a gazillion characters and it does get hard to keep track of them all.  I kept forgetting the Doctor’s other companions, Roz & Chris, were even there, and their main plot is their getting romantically involved.  Berenice, who had left the Doctor in Happy Endings, is front and center and this book is very much setting up her own series of New Adventures that would start in 1997.  Indeed, in various media, Berenice Summerfield is still appearing in new stories through today.

 

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating:

Book Review: Christmas on a Rational Planet by Lawrence Miles


Author: Lawrence Miles
Title: Christmas on a Rational Planet
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Summary/Review:

This is the first Doctor Who novel by Lawrence Miles, who would later go on to be one of the leading writers of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, introduce the Faction Paradox, and co-wrote the history of Doctor Who series About Time.  But in this first novel, Roz is trapped in a town in New York in 1799, Chris is trapped in the TARDIS with someone trying to kill him, and secret socities are worshipping Satan and the like.  The book is interesting at parts, but also just weird in ways that makes it hard to follow.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Happy Endings by Paul Cornell


Author: Paul Cornell
Title: Happy Endings
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Previously Read by the Same AuthorTimewyrm: Revelation, Love and War, Human Nature and Doctor Who: Four Doctors.
Summary/Review:

This is the 50th book in the Virgin New Adventures and after five years of publishing books instead of producing Doctor Who tv shows, it’s time to celebrate. In traditional Doctor Who style, anniversary celebrations mean bringing back past characters.  In this case, Cornell writes in connections to all 49 previous books in the series. If you’re like me and only read select few of the books in the series it means I don’t know who a lot of these people are, but it doesn’t prove to much of a problem.

The setting is the English village of Cheldon Bonniface, the same place featured in Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation, and the occasion is Bernice Summerfield’s marriage to Jason Kane.  Berenice’s main plot is basically sitcom hijinks about getting into fights with Jason over his perceived infidelity and then having makeup sex.  It’s so embarrassing it’s unbearable.  Luckily, there’s a lot more going on.  Ace, now going by the name Dorothee, is there as a bridesmaid and boasting about her sexual conquests, hoping to add Jason to the list (the books are VERY different from the tv show, no?). Both UNIT and a some Ice Warriors are there as an honor guard (they end up brawling in a village pub). Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson enlist Roz to aid them in solving a mystery.  The Doctor gets the Isley Brothers as the wedding band. And there’s a very long cricket match where the wedding guests challenge the villagers.

It’s all rather cornball and daft.  It’s not much as a book, but it’s a fun celebration of the continuity the Virgin New Adventures had created in keeping Doctor Who alive at a time when the show returning seemed unlikely.  Obviously, this one is for fan’s only.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Just War by Lance Parkin


Author: Lance Parkin
TitleJust War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, c1996.
Summary/Review:

The Seventh Doctor makes frequent visits to World War II: The Curse of Fenric on tv, Colditz on audio, Timewyrm: Exodus and this book in the Virgin New Adventures. We begin this book with one of this Doctor’s great manipulative plans.  Roz and Chris are working with British intelligence in London, Benny is undercover with the Resistance in Guernsey, and the Doctor is seeking a particularly genius Nazi scientist.  Things go horribly wrong, of course, and as happens all to often in the New Adventures, it leads to a companion getting tortured. The book features a strong narrative though, one of the most easily readable New Adventures, with great character moments for Benny, Roz, and Chris.  It’s also close to being a pure historical, with The Butterfly Effect and the Doctor’s hubris being the main antagonists outside of the Nazis.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Original Sin by Andy Lane


Author: Andy Lane
TitleOriginal Sin
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1995.
Summary/Review:

There’s a lot going on in this sprawling Doctor Who New Adventures novel.

    • First, it introduces a pair of new companions, Roz & Cwej, a pair of Adjucators (basically, cops) from Earth in the far future.  Roz is the grizzled veteran whose partner/mentor died and Cwej is the cheerful, ambitious rookie. In addition to these buddy cop story tropes, they find themselves uncovering a conspiracy!
    • The setting is the Earth in the far future when cities like London have been build up as spaceports with the wealthy living in gleaming towers, while the rest live in the dark, decaying Undertown (a concept that was later used in the tv story Gridlock).
    • The Earth is part of a dystopian society ruled by a Divine Empress who controls the galaxy (or at least the solar system, not sure).
    • Also featuring in this story are the Hith, a species of large, slug-like creatures who.  Berenice’s befriends a Hith whose death actually prompts her and the Doctor to visit future and get involved in this story.
    • There’s an imprisoned serial killer who the Doctor calls upon for advice, very much modeled on Hannibal Lecter.
    • Finally, the big reveal is that the Big Bad behind this all is Tobias Vaughn from the 1960s tv story The Invasion, who has managed to live thousands of years as a cyborg.

It’s a very busy story with a lot of weirdness, such as Cwej spending part of the narrative resembling a teddy bear, for fashion.  It also has the New Adventures’ trait of introducing lots of characters in new places and expecting the reader to remember them. That is, when the author actually mentions the names and is not doing that trick of keeping their identity secret.  It’s rather annoying and makes this book more of a struggle to read than necessary, but otherwise it’s entertaining.

Rating: ***

Virgin New Adventures

Book Review: Birthright by Nigel Robinson


Author: Nigel Robinson
TitleBirthright
Publication Info: London Bridge (1993)
Summary/Review:

The TARDIS crashes and Bernice Summerfield finds herself alone in the East of London in 1909, albeit the Doctor has somehow found a way to supply her with a bank account to draw upon, and the support of the Waterfield family for a place to live.  Soon she’s investigating a series of grisly murders attributed to Springheel Jack, but are actually committed by … aliens!  Meanwhile, Ace is on a desert planet in the far future aiding the surviving humans against the insect-like Charrl.  And the Doctor is off having adventures in another book that I won’t be reading.

This is the first example of a “Doctor-light” story that became common in the future Virgin Adventures and in the new television series.  It also continues the trend of characterizing the Doctor as a manipulative mastermind, the Ace as surly and violent, and Benny as clever but self-doubting.  Even the surreal dream-like sequence of the conclusion is a New Adventures’ trait.  Nevertheless, it’s a much more simply-written, straightforward narrative than some of the other, more complex books.  And barring a few examples of sexist language, it’s a pretty enjoyable adventure to read too.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Transit by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Title: Transit
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who, 1992.
Summary/Review:

Having read Set Piece, I decided to jump back to this earlier book in the New Adventures series that introduces the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. The author, Ben Aaronovitch, previously wrote the teleplays for the classic Seventh Doctor serials Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield.  This novel was controversial at the time of its release because in response to the adult audience of the New Adventures novels, Aaronovitch depicted scenes with profanity, drug use, and sex for the first time in a Doctor Who story.

The main plot involves a transit system that connects the Solar System through “tunnels” which are actually transmat systems that carry “trains” over long distances at faster-than-light speeds. An entity from another dimension enters the transit system like a virus causing power surges and killing people.  The TARDIS gets caught in one of the surges separating the Doctor and Benny.  This is the first novel in which Benny is traveling with the Doctor and she ends up possessed by the virus, which is an interesting choice when her character hasn’t even been fully established yet.

Like other New Adventures I’ve read, this is a complex novel with dozens of characters and an entire fictional universe in the cyberpunk style without anything really for the reader to latch on to be introduced to the characters and their world.  I shouldn’t complain so much about the novels’ complexity, but I did major in English and read complex novels (heck, I even read Ulysses for fun!), so it’s frustrating to struggle with sci-fi tv spinoff novels from the 1990s.  Still, there are some great details, such as allusions to the Ice Warriors (here called “Greenies”) and a great war.  The final showdown between the Doctor and the entity is also well-written.

Rating: ***

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: Set Piece by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
TitleSet Piece
Publication Info: London Bridge (1995)
Summary/Review:

This is Kate Orman’s second contribution to the New Adventures line and much like The Left-Handed Hummingbird she puts the Doctor and his companions in torturous scenarios that push them to their limits, physically and psychologically.  An organic vessel known only as The Ship is exploiting a Time Rift to abduct starliner passengers with the help of robotic Ants and harvest their minds for The Ship’s systems.  The Doctor and Ace make a plan to get themselves captured by The Ship to find out what’s happening and stop the abductions.  But when Bernice comes to rescue them the Time Rift throws them into three different eras.

The heart of the story focuses on Ace, as this is her farewell story, putting her in a situation where she has a long time to think about her travels with the Doctor, accept that they may be forever separated, and begin to use how she’s learned and grown to continue on her own.  Ace finds herself in Ancient Egypt, and unwilling to accept the cultural norms for women at the time, tries to prove herself as a soldier and a bodyguard.  She even tries to overthrow the tyrannical reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten, as you do.

Meanwhile, Berenice ends up in France in 1798 and ends up befriending the Egyptologist Vivant Denon and traveling with Napoleon’s army to Egypt. The Doctor also ends up in Paris but in 1871 during the Paris Commune, suffering PSTD from his experience on The Ship and slowly recovering under the care of a mysterious frenemy Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart.  It’s no spoiler that the three of them do find a way to get back together, but this book is more of a study of characterization and relationships in extreme situations than plotting.

This is the type of story that would be unimaginable in the original run of the television program, and although the New Adventures strongly influenced the revised series, I can’t see it done there as well.  It’s certainly difficult to imagine Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred in these parts as I read the book.  Not that they were not fine actors who could certainly give it a go, just that the characterizations of tv have evolved so much over the course of the New Adventures, so this is a satisfying farewell for book Ace that seems inexplicable for TV Ace.

While I’ve been enjoying going back and reading these books from the 90s to revisit an overlooked but transformative period in Doctor Who, it’s also frustrating how much continuity there is within the New Adventures.  Set Piece is the 35th of 61 novels and there is no way I’m going to find time to read them all (especially the one’s I’ve been told are not worth reading).  This is full of references to previous adventures and Kadiatu enters the story with no explanation of who she is or her significance, having previously appeared in the 10th book Transit.  I’m griping a bit too much, but I am grateful that I’m reading these in the time of Wikipedia, otherwise I’d be lost.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: Human Nature by Paul Cornell


AuthorHuman Nature
TitlePaul Cornell
Publication Info: London : BBC Books, 2015 (originally published May 1995)
Summary/Review:

In this novel, the Doctor has himself genetically modified so he can experience life as a human. Forgetting his real identity, the Doctor believes he is a Scottish teacher named John Smith at a boy’s school in rural England in 1914.  If this sounds familiar to Doctor Who tv viewers, it’s because Cornell adapted this book as the two-part episode “Human Nature/Family of Blood” in Series 3 with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor/John Smith.  It’s best not to think of the television adaptation while reading the book as the stories differ in many ways.

Cornell’s basic idea was to have a story featuring the Doctor in a romantic relationship with a fellow teacher, Joan Redfern.  Again, in the present day we’ve seen the Doctor fall in love with Rose, snog Madame Pompadour, and marry River Song, so the elaborate plot of making the Doctor a human for him to experience romance would be excessive. Apart from the love story, this book is a good exploration of being human and the Doctor’s character.

On the one hand this is a brutal and gory story. The villainous alien Aubertides are merciless in slaughtering (and eating) anyone who gets in their way.  In response, the leaders of the school are willing to mobilize the boys into a military unit to fight back. There’s even a disturbing scene early in the book where the school boys murder one of their own.

On the other hand, John Smith, while still in a human guise is able to determine a better way.  To throw away the guns, lead the children to safety, attempt diplomacy, and then win through guile.  The willingness of the human characters in this book to support and sacrifice for one another shows our species at it’s best.

Like many Virgin New Adventures, there’s a surplus of side characters and interwoven sideplots that could be excised to make a tighter, more focused adventure.  But it’s still a gripping read and Doctor Who at it’s best.

Favorite Passages:

“I can see why Rocastle thinks that way.  It’s attractive.  Imagine, never having to make any decisions.  Because of honor. And etiquette. And patriotism. You could live like a river flowing downhill, hopping from one standard response to the other. Honour this. Defend that.”

“‘Isn’t it odd,’ opined Alexander, ‘how close masculinity is to melodrama?'”

Rating: ****