(Non-)Review Blog of the Daleks

(16 comments)

The Eight Doctors: Occasionally people accuse me of blaming the TV Movie for killing Doctor Who. Nonsense. This is the book to blame - a turgid mess that insults its audience. Readers were understandably disappointed at the idea of taking the license away from Virgin, who had been brilliant, and restarting the book lines as explicitly less mature and intelligent. This book confirmed everyone’s worst fears - that BBC Books had no clue what they were doing. The Virgin line recovered from a bad start because it was all we had. But the BBC Books line consciously killed off something good and replaced it with something that, at first glance, looked awful. It never recovered. 1/10

Vampire Science: Quite marvelous, actually. Its only flaw is that nobody really picked up on this wonderfully daft characterization of the Eighth Doctor, and that this wasn’t taken as a template for how to do the Eighth Doctor as a contrast to the Seventh. Instead it was one of a handful of isolated moments of quality in the line’s early days. Alas. 9/10

Business Unusual: Dreadful. A pointless pile of fanwank, with the added misery of being fanwank about Russell’s previous fanwank. A story that was in no way crying out to be told, and another early nail in the coffin of the BBC Books line. Also one of several attempts to fix Colin Baker’s Doctor that don’t actually improve the character meaningfully. The pointless inclusion oft he Brigadier gives away just how banal and obsessed with ticking the boxes this book is. 2/10

War of the Daleks: Interesting purely as the straw that broke the camel’ back and led a sizable chunk of fandom to just say “no, that’s not canon, and I don’t care,” regardless of whether or not they otherwise accepted the books as canon. It’s not hard to see why this turgid piece of crap inspired such a revolt. What stands out is not merely that it’s bad, but that it’s mean-spirited, seeking to piss on other stories for no reason other than to spite them and the people that like them. Horrifying. 1/10

The Roundheads: Ah, Gatiss. A bit of fluffy nostalgia. Harmless, and with a better characterization of Troughton’s Doctor than a lot of books, but ultimately a pointless exercise in nostalgia for its own sake that demonstrates why the historicals wound down as a genre. Difficult to have any real feelings about one way or another. 5/10

Alien Bodies: Ah, yes. That’s the book we all thought Miles was capable of writing. Brilliant, intriguing, at times maddening, but always fascinating and gripping. Miles was infamously hard to work with, and it’s thus not hard to understand why he didn’t get to drive the EDAs, but on the strength of this book, it’s difficult to see why anyone messed with his vision for the line, as it’s absolutely riveting. In the end this, along with Timewyrm: Revelation, Love and War, Human Nature, and The Scarlet Empress are the absolute must-reads of the wilderness years, without which you cannot quite understand the history of how the show developed from Survival to Rose. 10/10

Face of the Enemy: The exception that proves the rule with regards to my not really liking McIntee - this is marvelous. All of it works, and works exquisitely. Barbara and Ian are particularly well-handled, but this is, through and through, a wonderful book that justifies why the line exists. For my money, the best of the PDAs. 8/10

The Witch Hunters: The most overrated of the PDAs - I’ve never been a fan of Lyons’s handling of history, and this is the book that soured me on it. Poorly written, overwrought, and with a vision of history that makes the Doctor difficult to have any sympathy for. The idea that the atrocities of the Salem Witch Trials are somehow morally justified is obscene. A train wreck that I’m frankly astonished has such a high reputation. 2/10

The Scarlet Empress: What’s not to love? Iris Wildthyme is a breath of fresh air, Paul Magrs is having a blast, and it’s contagious enough that the rest of us get pulled in its wake and have fun too. I’m not sure how it’s physically possible not to enjoy this book. A delight in every regards, and one of the Wilderness Years books that changed how we all think of Doctor Who. 10/10

The Infinity Doctors: Terribly fun, and yet not a book I can quite bring myself to fall in love with. I find myself enjoying Parkin’s Doctor Who more as an intellectual exercise than as a book. Yes, Parkin demonstrates how to do a big movie reboot of Doctor Who. But he doesn’t quite demonstrate why we’d bother, and the gap is tangible. Interesting, but in the end, not quite compelling. A fun read, though, and certainly worth looking at, but I suspect ultimately praised because of how dire everything around it was. 8/10

Unnatural History: Not content with being the real start of the EDAs with Vampire Science, Orman and Blum go back and provide the real bridge between the TV Movie and their take on the Eighth Doctor. With the knowledge that the EDAs are going to come crashing down and taken on a strange new form in not too long, this serves as a sort of final proof that the generation of writers who do the EDAs just aren’t up to the level of the generation that dominated the Virgin line. In the end, the problem wasn’t Eight or the TV Movie or anything. It was BBC Books, and the fact that they didn’t have enough writers who could get behind the concepts that worked. Like this one. 9/10

Interference: With the comfort of hindsight, it’s hard to tell what all the fuss was about. Sure, there’s the retcon of Planet of the Spiders, but we all had the original on VHS if we wanted it, and it’s a fascinating story concept. And given how far afield the EDAs went within a year of this, it’s not even that radical - at least this didn’t actually impact your ability to do a nice, traditional Doctor Who story. As with all Miles novels, its reach exceeds its grasp ever so slightly, though this is not really a flaw. The Eight section is a bit too long, but the fact that this had to be done as two books and not as one sensibly sized book is hardly Miles’s fault. (As ever, Virgin could have handled it better.) But what we actually have is a novel of bold ideas. One that takes on big issues just to see what happens when Doctor Who crashes into them. The Remote are brilliant. The Faction is brilliant. The Doctor being tortured in a Saudi Arabian prison is horrifying and brilliant. The whole book is brilliant. Again with the comfort of hindsight, the worst thing about this novel is knowing that it’s the last time Miles gets to play with the fully assembled Faction Paradox toybox. It’s imperfect, but its worst flaw is that we never got more. 9/10

The Blue Angel: A strange book that feels like a proof of concept: look, Doctor Who can do literary magical realism. Which, yes, I suppose it can, but the result is something that doesn’t quite scratch the literary magical realism itch or the Doctor Who itch. Very easy to respect, but hard to like, and very hard to convince myself I want to sit down with again. 6/10

Corpse Marker: Falling into a strange gap between traditionalism and narrative evolution, Corpse Marker doesn’t quite work. It acts as though it has bold and interesting things to say, but coming out in 1999 and interested only in the thematic concerns of the 1970s, it doesn’t really. It’s a throwback, not so much stylistically as conceptually, believing that robots and AI are still an interesting and important theme twenty years after their heyday as a cultural concern. Leela’s marvelous in it, though. 4/10

Verdigris: Competes with Carnival of Monsters for the title of my favorite Pertwee story. This is a love letter that recognizes all the flaws of the Pertwee era and loves it even more for them. Regularly hilarious, and a vibrant demonstration of why gay fandom was by miles the most interesting part of the fandom in the late wilderness years. Simply one of the great treats of the Doctor Who novels. 10/10

The Shadows of Avalon: Its reputation is as Cornell’s stumble, and that’s largely deserved. Handed a terribly bad plot point by Lawrence Miles in the form of the serial rape of Compassion, Cornell at least manages to stop Romana from actually raping anyone, which is on the one hand good, and on the other mind-wrenching that it was even an issue. It has its moments, and the portrayal of grief is actually quite good, but it’s clear nobody really wants to be here and doing this. Cornell’s heart isn’t in it, and he’s the wrong writer for this era and plot (which says more about the era than Cornell). Cornell doesn’t write bad books… but in this case he doesn’t really write a great one either. 7/10

The Ancestor Cell: As the saying goes, if you come at the king, you’d best not miss. Which is to say that if you sack the most brilliant Doctor Who writer of the last three years and tie off all his plot threads without his input or consent, you really have to stick the landing. Instead we get something that is in no way a satisfying wrap-up of Miles’s good ideas, not least because it understands none of them, and that sets the novel line up for something that is… foolish at best. On top of that, turgid and poorly written. After a few years in which we kept pointing out all the ways in which the EDAs were almost great, this comes along and shoots itself in the foot just in time for Big Finish to get McGann and create a civil war on what Doctor Who actually is. If Davies hadn’t come along when he did, the damage this book did to Doctor Who would have finally been the end of it within a year or two. 1/10

The Burning: The complaint that it’s low key misses the point - its low key elements are the bits that work. By telling a straight-up Doctor Who story with almost all of the trappings of Doctor Who removed, Richards demonstrates the flexibility of the approach and the heart of it in a way that has never been duplicated before or since. The problem is that its low key nature disguises the reason why it works, which is that it manages to ignore all of the bad ideas and decisions taken in getting to it. As soon as those start to creep back into view, the line runs aground. But here, at least, we get a moment of pleasant and understated quality - a fun book, so long as you ignore its context entirely. 6/10

Father Time: One of these days Lance is going to notice these middling reviews and kill me in my sleep. But in any case, it’s the usual Lance Parkin formula: take a premise that can’t work in Doctor Who and find a way to make it work. The result is good with moments of greatness, and perhaps it’s just that I’m too familiar with the tricks. But this reads, in the end, like a writing exercise, more interested in how you make the premise work than in the actual emotional content. It’s good and enjoyable… but I don’t quite see the classic in it. 7/10

Asylum: This one’s quite good, actually - a clever Doctor/companion pair, and the balance between being a historical and being a story about aliens is fascinating. The essay at the end’s a bit wonky, but intriguingly so. An underloved gem worth dusting off and having a look at. But I’m always a sucker for more Nyssa. 8/10

Adventuress of Henrietta Street: This was absolutely lovely, and as much fun as I’ve ever had reading a Doctor Who book. Clever, full of ideas, and showing just how easy it is to build an interesting mythology out of bits of Doctor Who. That the EDAs as a whole proved so incapable of handling their mythology makes the effortless way in which Miles does it all the more bewildering. Great characters, fantastic twists, and a book that’s just a pleasure to read. Spoiler: the trick is that questions are more interesting than answers. 10/10

Warmonger: A blistering and often hilarious satire of the overwrought militarism of the Saward era filtered through Terrance Dicks’s compulsively readable prose. Dicks finally outdoes Robert Holmes in terms of sheer bitterness and snark. Rather marvelous, actually. 7/10

Camera Obscura: Quite sharp and clever. Fairly obviously nicked from Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, but steal from the best. Not actually one of the five best EDAs ever, but a solid and entertaining book. No wonder Kylie Minogue read it. 9/10

Sometime Never…: With it obvious that nothing the Eighth Doctor Adventures did would be carrying on as canon, the novel line decides to go out not with a bang but with an odd whimper of continuity that mainly serves to demonstrate one more time why every big picture after sacking Lawrence Miles was an unfortunate mistake. Sometime Never is in no way the worst Doctor Who story ever, but it may well be the most utterly pointless. 3/10

The Gallifrey Chronicles: The only way the EDAs really could have ended, and a clear-cut case of Lance Parkin being the right man for the job. I’ve criticized his previous books as being proof of concept books - sketches that exist to show how a given absurd premise could work. The Doctor Who equivalent of a Julius Schwartz or Mort Weisenger era DC cover. But that’s exactly what this book calls for - proof that the Eighth Doctor Adventures could be wrapped up in such a way as to make a final definitive statement about one of the messiest eras in Doctor Who. As always, Parkin pulls it off. One doubts anyone else could have. 8/10

Fear Itself: A needed repair job to a deeply flawed point in the EDAs. This doesn’t come anywhere close to fixing the idiotic amnesia arc, but it at least shows some thought about it, and is a clever book to boot. In many ways a book out of time - one last spitting into the wind to argue that the EDAs were worth doing. And fair enough. For all their flaws, they were that. 7/10

Comments

Adam Riggio 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks again for another entertaining Not-A-Review post, Phil. I really enjoyed following your thought processes through this very weird period of Doctor Who, quite possibly the weirdest.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

God...I want to read all of these. Even the terrible ones. I need to go to prison or become a monk or something. I can barely sit down long enough to get through Enemy of the World -- as it is I have to watch it at the gym, so I still have 2 episodes and change to get through. It's absolutely splendid, much better than I'd expected, but I can't let myself read either of your posts about it until I'm done.

I know you didn't cover it, but what did you think of The Year of Intelligent Tigers?

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 3 years, 4 months ago

Looking back, it seems utterly daft that they got rid of Lawrence Miles. I can well believe he was a difficult personality, but who else was having any series-sized ideas? It's almost as if they didn't give much of a toss if the EDA range was any good or not.

Link | Reply

sleepyscholar 3 years, 4 months ago

So much of the 8th Doctor material seems... forgettable.

Shame really.

Link | Reply

matt bracher 3 years, 4 months ago

The writing about Lawrence Miles -- whose brilliance I understand -- and the sad fact that he created a fascinating mythology made me wish, again, that "The Taking of Planet Five" had been part of the blog.

And I continue to hope that it will be part of the book, when that day finally arrives.

Link | Reply

matt bracher 3 years, 4 months ago

Okay, having posted that comment, as I have others, using my Google account, I'm curious how other people are reading and commenting on this blog. It's way off topic, but it's obvious that there are better ways [from the fact, at a minimum, that some comments have /italics/], and I'm hoping for suggestions.

Apologies for being far afield.

Link | Reply

Bennett 3 years, 4 months ago

I sign in with a Google account and use the comment field at the bottom of the essay page.

This supports some basic HTML tags if you type them out manually, allowing for bold text, italics and even links.

(These three are written as < b>text here< /b>, < i> text here < /i> and < a href="link here"> text here < /a> respectively, without the spaces in the tags).

Link | Reply

Galadriel 3 years, 4 months ago

Of the ones listed, I've read The Eight Doctors, Vampire Science, Alien Bodies, Interference, The Ancestor Cell, Shadows of Avalon and Father Time. I want to read the rest of them just to say I have, but I have to say, most of your opinions are right-on.

Link | Reply

Theonlyspiral 3 years, 4 months ago

As one of the kickstarter backers that picked an essay, I have it on good authority it will be.

Link | Reply

Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks Bennett! I've been trying to work that out for ages. I 've hated using upper case for emphasis as it looks like SHOUTING. Expect lots of posts using appropriate effects from now on.

Link | Reply

prandeamus 3 years, 4 months ago

I love Planet Five, but find it hard to explain why exactly. It's fun. The Lovecraft references go completely over my head, never having read HPL. The book is worth the cost just for the phrase "emfoozles via the emphatic metahedron" alone, and it's full of mad ideas and subversions of the Time Lords. The meaning-devouring predator universes are no doubt the biggest monster ever. Shame it kills off the Celestis so soon after their introduction in Alien Bodies though; they would have a useful group to keep in the Time War/Enemy mix.

Link | Reply

matt bracher 3 years, 4 months ago

Agreed! I may still hate the "prove you're not a robot" bit, but this will be helpful. I'm from the old school of CAPITALS or /italics/ or *emphasized*, but looking forward to something beyond the days of Usenet.

Link | Reply

Assad K 3 years, 4 months ago

I haven't read Warmonger. But just after reading it's description.. 7? Really? Well, maybe if it's satire. Is it, though?

Link | Reply

David Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

I don't see Eye of Heaven here?

Link | Reply

Christopher "Peaky" Brown 2 years, 4 months ago

Just curious, what would you rate "Eye of Heaven", "Festival of Death", and "Mad Dawgs and Englishhens"?

Link | Reply

papereyes1871 1 year, 7 months ago

Taking of Planet 5 does a great job of both introducing great ideas and completely killing them a few pages later. It's a good read though, with some great visual images. I like the Museum of Things That Don't Exist.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom