Then Suddenly, One Year, There Was No Spring (Timewyrm: Genesys and Timewyrm: Exodus)

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I’ll Explain Later

I'll Explain Later is a feature that will be employed for the out-of-print Virgin and BBC Books covered over the next few months, in which I provide a brief contextualization of what the book is and what its general critical reception is. For these entries, the entry proper begins below the horizontal rule. 

Timewyrm: Genesys is the first of the New Adventures, by John Peel. The first four books are ostensibly a plot arc about the eponymous Timewyrm, who is introduced in this book as an alien using the Osiran playbook on the Sumerians and impersonating Ishtar. She eventually gets magic powers from the TARDIS, like you do. Guest-starring Gilgamesh, and infamous for the amount of boobs and molestation, at the time Gary Russell politely describes himself as "feeling a little disappointed." More recently, I Who describes it as “brave, if woefully unsuccessful,” and Shannon Sullivan’s novel rankings place it at fifty-fourth out of the sixty-one New Adventures, with a rating of 54.9%. DWRG summary. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide entry.

Timewyrm: Exodus is Terrance Dicks’s debut in the world of adult Doctor Who novels. Nazis ahoy, this one features an alternate timeline where the Germans win World War II, Hitler as a major supporting character (possessed by the Timewyrm to boot), and the return of the War Chief from The War Games. This easily has the best reputation of any of Dicks's original novels. At the time, Doctor Who Magazine called it "a mature, intelligent book written by someone who clearly knows his subject backwards." I, Who calls it “a book with a good reputation that deserves even more praise,” while Sullivan’s rankings put it at seventh out of sixty-one with an 81.4% rating. DWRG summary. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide entry.



It’s June of 1991. Cher is at number one with “The Shoop Shoop Song,” replaced by “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd after one week. They hold until the end of the month, when Jason Donovan takes over with “Any Dream Will Do.” Soft Cell, KLF, REM, Kylie Minogue, Salt-N-Pepper, and Amy Grant also chart.

It’s also August of 1991, in which Bryan Adams is at number one with “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” which stays at number one the entire month, fending off Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” for a staggering six weeks straight, with the two occupying #1 and #2 through to the end of September. Guns ’n Roses, Metallica, Heavy D and the Boyz, and The Prodigy also chart.

In news, we have rather a lot to cover in the eighteen month gap. So, starting back in December of 1989, free elections are held in Chile for the first time in sixteen years, and the Romanian revolution begins and ends in a matter of days, with Nicolae Ceau?escu being executed as a Christmas present. Four days later, Václav Havel is elected president of Czechoslovakia.

1990 is all sorts of exciting - a US invasion of Panama, F.W. de Klerk promises to free Nelson Mandela and stops outlawing the African National Congress, and the UK resumes diplomatic contact with Argentina. The US Secret Service raids Steve Jackson Games over their employment of Lloyd Blankenship for their GURPS Cyberpunk book, an incident prompting the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Poll tax protests become widespread, including the so-called Second Battle of Trafalgar. Robert Runcie steps down as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Hubble Space Telescope is launched, but with a defective mirror. Oops. Also, a £292 million pound mugging takes place in London. Again, oops.

Continuing with 1990, it’s another World Cup, and the West Germans win everything, then reunite with East Germany for good measure. The Americans with Disabilities act, one of the few things the US actually does better than the UK, is signed by President Bush. The idea of this act being signed today by a Republican President is, of course, hilarious. Leonard Bernstein conducts his final concert in Boston. Tim Berners-Lee publishes a formal proposal for the World Wide Web, and creates the first webpage. Iraq invades Kuwait, prompting the US to set up a defensive operation in Saudi Arabia called Operation Desert Shield. The Cold War continues to wrap up as the USSR works its way towards collapsing. And, with Doctor Who finally off the air, Margaret Thatcher is deemed surplus to requirements and is ousted as Prime Minister, with John Major taking over.

Finally up to 1991, then, the US enacts Operation Desert Storm, the successor to Operation Desert Shield, to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. Rodney King is beaten by police in Los Angeles, an event that is, significantly, captured on video.

While during the time under discussion, the legal steps to end apartheid are passed, with the legislative foundations of it being repealed. Jeffrey Dahmer and Mike Tyson are both arrested. The World Wide Web is officially unveiled as a thing. A failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in the USSR, many of the Soviet republics declare independence, and the Super Nintendo is released.

While on books, we have, as alluded to above, Timewyrm: Genesys and Timewyrm: Exodus beginning Virgin Books’s New Adventures range. The earliest days of the New Adventures are a bit of a stuttering start. This is not surprising, and it’s difficult to even take it as too much of a criticism. Not for the first time in Doctor Who’s history what it’s trying to do is a heck of a high-wire act. In practice it’s going to take until the fourth book to really, properly get into the swing of what the New Adventures are going to end up being. By any sane measurement this should be called “very, very fast.”

The New Adventures, after all, had two significant tasks to tackle. First they had to translate Doctor Who to a completely new medium. This is not an easy task, although as we’ve already discussed, the existence of the Target novelizations eased the process considerably in that there were reams of Doctor Who books already in existence, even if most of them were plotted and laid out to be television stories and not novels. But second, they had to manage the transition into being “adult” Doctor Who. This is a much less straightforward transition, since one of the things that has often defined Doctor Who is its relationship with the basic constraint that it is generally considered to be children’s television, albeit children’s television that adults typically enjoy. Even through the Cartmel era one of the central premises of the show and one of the major sources of its cleverness was the way it played with the genre tropes of television.

But the New Adventures, for better or for worse, discarded that. We’ll get around to discussing the wisdom and implications of that, but for now let’s say that it’s not entirely senseless - adults are the ones with disposable income, and Doctor Who fans, as an identified demographic who are going to go search out books based on an off-the-air television series, are probably grown-ups. So if you’re marketing to grown-ups and in a form that’s unlikely to spark a tedious moral panic - and particularly if you’re suddenly in a bit of a “no adult supervision” situation because of the departure of John Nathan-Turner from the scene - it makes sense to pitch the books as more serious, adult novels.

But “Doctor Who for grown-ups” is, as a phrase, better as a marketing tactic than as a straightforward description of something. What it means to take Doctor Who and make it “for grown-ups” is ambiguous at best. Often when we say “for grown-ups” what we really mean is “not for kids,” and thus get something that can be accomplished more or less just by adding sex and violence.

Which brings us to Timewyrm: Genesys, a book whose sole claim to being for adults amounts to the fact that Gilgamesh sexually assaults everything in sight and everybody focuses on breasts a whole lot. I’m certainly not about to suggest that the idea of a good Doctor Who story about sex is impossible, but I’m pretty willing to suggest that this isn’t it. A sample paragraph, to show off the horrors:

“There was another woman with him. Her mind seemed paralyzed as she saw the king fondling this other creature. Why, it was the daughter of that inept Gudea, wasn’t it? That little slut, barely thirteen, barely marriable. And here she was, pretending to be a grown woman, putting herself on public display to have her body pawed by that egotistic lecher. The girl giggled as Gilgamesh slipped a hand down her front and tweaked.”

Ooh. Aren’t we edgy, talking about thirteen-year-old girls getting their breasts fondled by grown men because that’s how ancient Sumerian culture was and we’re being honest and oh gag me already while I take a bloody shower to wash the sheer ugliness of this sort of schoolboy version of “adult” off.

And what’s worse is that Peel has the Doctor play “don’t judge history” on this. When Ace suggests that she’ll fight back if Gilgamesh attempts to sexually assault her, the Doctor chastises her, saying “Ace, these trips of ours are supposed to broaden your mind. Stop thinking in twentieth century terms for a while.” It’s a wonder he doesn’t tell her to lie back and think of Iceworld. And it’s inexcusable and vile in a way that the series, even in the dark days of The Celestial Toymaker or The Twin Dilemma, never really attempted. I mean, let’s be clear - this isn’t just bland cultural relativism, it’s the Doctor chastising Ace for being upset at the potential of her own sexual assault.

The book also has a strange ambivalence as to what its audience is. On the one hand, it goes out of its way to find excuses to explain major precepts of the series for potential new readers that the Virgin line apparently thought it might pick up. On the other, however, it’s bursting at the seams with continuity references, no matter how awkward. (My top choice in the awkward sweepstakes, for what it’s worth: “Ace felt like she’d been kicked in the brain by a bad-tempered Cyberman.” Because Cybermen are, of course, known for kicking, and, for that matter, for having temperaments.) This results in bizarre moments such as an exploitation of what the cloister bell is that goes out of its way to name-check Logopolis for good measure, managing, in the process, to satisfy neither people who know what the cloister bell is nor people who don’t.

It’s easy to make the book a punching bag, particularly because John Peel is prone to proclamations like “It seemed almost fated that when W.H. Allen/Virgin decided to launch the New Adventures series, I’d be there, plotting and planning to write the very first of these original stories.” Things like that make picking on the flaws easy, and there are a fair number of them. This is, in other words, a hot mess of a book that doesn’t have the first clue what it wants to be. It’s not an auspicious start, but other than the rapey bits it’s not quite inauspicious either - it’s just a case of a book where it’s clear nobody has figured out what the line is supposed to be yet, and so tried something that clearly didn’t work. And, you know. Had the Doctor telling Ace it would be OK if she got raped a little.

More interesting, in many regards, is Timewyrm: Exodus, by Terrance Dicks. These days Dicks has done scads of adult Doctor Who books - two more for Virgin, two Eighth Doctor Adventures, and another five Past Doctor Adventures. But this was the first time he dipped his toe into those particular waters, and the result is… interesting. Really, there are several writers who have had interesting reactions to the transition to “adult” Doctor Who. In many cases it feels just as much like a constraint as a liberation - “oh, well, I guess we have to put in some sex.” But in Dicks’s case it’s clear that he felt liberated by the new audience, and like he could really cut loose and do a story he’s always wanted to do.

The thing is, apparently, when you give Terrance Dicks the freedom to unleash the darker corners of his mind and write a story for adults that doesn’t have any pesky constraints or censorship… you get Nazis. And, I mean, this isn’t entirely unfair - the Nazis are, in fact, really horrific. But there’s something deeply charming about the fact that, when told he can write an adult novel, Terrance Dicks is apparently the sort of person who goes, “at last, I can put something really horrible in my book. Like Nazis!” Compare to Ben Aaronovitch in a few weeks, or, for that matter, with John Peel a few paragraphs ago and the charm becomes evident.

Dicks’s transition to writing adult novels did not, of course, impact his storytelling. In fact, this book is an absolute triumph structurally - a plot that jumps across four settings, introduces a bevy of memorable characters, both historical and fictional, and packs in a large mass of information, and has an attack of brainwashed Nazi zombies to boot. It’s just about as much fun as one can have, and despite being packed to the gills the book absolutely sings. Dicks is majestic at keeping a busy book moving. This is no surprise - it’s what he’s good at, and he’s very, very good.

The result is much closer to a meaningful vision of what adult Doctor Who could be. It’s still a ripping adventure yarn, but there’s an aggressiveness to it. Dicks is visibly a World War II buff, and there’s a passion to the piece. He clearly relishes getting to put the Doctor in the same room as Hitler and Goering, and the sections where he gets to have the Doctor monologue about the behavior of totalitarian regimes are absolutely electric. Yes, the Nazis aren’t all that shocking, but that’s good for an adult book. Terrance Dicks is writing a mature book, but thank God someone did this early in the range. Because it shows what writing Doctor Who about serious topics can look like. If you can’t do Nazis right then you’re not going to do well with something that people see as inflammatory.

The problem is… Dicks doesn’t do Nazis right. I mean, he does them well, but there’s a horrible failure in this book. I remember, back in my wayward teenage years, playing a role-playing game - Vampire: The Masquerade. The game featured vampires in various powerful roles in society, manipulatively pulling humanity’s strings. And there was a note in one of the rulebooks that admonished players not to have vampires be responsible for everything, because it fundamentally weakens the moral horror of something like the Holocaust to suggest that it only happened because some magic people made it so.

That’s the problem Dicks runs smack into. In the midst of this vivid, punchy portrayal of all of the pathetic failings of the Nazis, Dicks has it so that the only reason Hitler ever came to power was that the Timewyrm possessed him, and because the War Chief pulled some strings. And the only reason he eventually lost was that the Doctor nipped by and exorcised the Timewyrm and sent the War Chief packing, so he went back to being the incompetent madman he always was. And there’s that characteristic blindness - the same one that came forth so vividly in Moonbase 3 and The Monster of Peladon - that persistently mars Dicks’s work. Because for the evil of the Nazis and of the Holocaust to mean anything, it has to be humans that did it. That’s why the Holocaust is horrific in a way that three million people dying in the 1931 China floods isn’t. Because we did it. Because actual, real people supported bringing the Nazis into power and committed their atrocities. Not some fucking space aliens. Us.

And Dicks is blind to it. And it’s such a frustrating paradox. Because the thing that seems to blind him is also what makes other parts of his book so good. The savage glee with which he can have the Doctor calmly rattle off all the interrogation techniques the Nazis are going to use and grumble when they’re not done well is the reason he’s prone to trivializing the moral horror of the Nazis by making them only succeed because of psychic amplifiers used on Hitler’s species. He’s so invested in the fact that noble modern liberal Britain is good and the Nazis were pathetic dictators that he can’t bring himself to treat the Nazis as the serious moral horror that they are. He’s more invested in his master narratives of good and evil than he is in the real world.

And so Timewyrm: Exodus doesn’t quite work either. It’s certainly miles better than Timewyrm: Genesys. It’s really quite a fun book, actually - a fact that only makes its moral failings more frustrating. But it’s not a vision of mature Doctor Who. Mature Doctor Who has to be more than doing the same old approach on slightly edgier ground.

Put another way, a mature approach to Doctor Who is going to have to do something that neither of these two books did - approach the subject starting from what the Cartmel era did and going further. In both of these books McCoy’s Doctor is basically “generic Doctor,” and Ace is just generic companion with anger management issues and explosives. There’s none of the materialism of the Cartmel era, and while Dicks squeezes some ordinary people into his book, his depiction of Nazi Germany and Nazi Britain is really just window dressing for him to deliver history lessons and broad ideas. There’s no sense of the mundane here - no sense of people’s everyday lives. The Cartmel era’s attentiveness to that was a big part of why it was such a leap forward, and any real attempt at mature Doctor Who is going to have to go through that.

So two books in, the New Adventures still haven’t figured out how to do mature Doctor Who. But equally, it’s a hard job to do. They didn’t get it in two books. And, not to spoil the next entry too badly, but they’re not going to get it in three either. In four, however…

Comments

Eric Gimlin 5 years ago

How important was it that Terrance Dicks was one of the earliest writers to do a book in the series? Not just in terms of how good the book was, but at establishing the legitimacy of the series? He was clearly the major name on the books and had been for a very long time at this point. Even I knew that around the time this came out,and I had no interest in the books (or even Doctor Who in general) at this point.

On another point: Congratulation on reaching this stage of the blog. You've been talking about it for a long time, but here it begins. Looking forward to this stage of the journey immensely, I just hope I can keep ahead of the reading. (I've got a five week lead at this point, so I'm good for a while at least.)

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Bob Dillon 5 years ago

I always took the Hitler/timewyrm thing the other way round. She was *trapped* in this horrible mind, and when the Doctor exorcized her, Hitler became disorientated - rather than "reverting back".

maybe wishful thinking on my part but (I read this first when I was 14) I really only saw the Timewyrm's influence on the events at the castle as her fault, everything else was ours.

Oh and you didn't dwell on the first scene in Genesys, it's important for the best checkov's gun in the entire show, comming in at 14 years later.

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verlaine 5 years ago

Without ever being willing to excuse sexual assault; isn't it a bit weird to feel squicked out by the Doctor accepting the status quo of a culture where the age of consent is lower than our own, if we accept his powerlessness in the face of Aztec human sacrifice? (Of course, in the Aztecs, we have Barbara to provide some countervailing moral outrage, but it's not like Ace stands acceptingly by in Genesys).

Sure, John Peel lingering lasciviously over a 13 year old because he can is pretty sleazy, pretty Roman Polanski, but I don't think the Doctor refusing to fight for the objective righteousness and purity of no-sex-till-16-please-we're-British is a contradiction of the series' ideals.

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Andrew Hickey 5 years ago

If the 'perfect sacrifice' in The Aztecs had been unwilling, do you think the Doctor would have stood by the same way?

For that matter, in The Aztecs, Susan's unwillingness to get married is portrayed as a positive thing.

It's not the Doctor standing by and letting other cultures have different sexual morals that's the problem -- it's his chastising of Ace for not wanting to be raped.

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Jack Graham 5 years ago

I seem to recall reading the DWM review of 'Timewyrm: Exodus' and being horrified by the reviewer saying something like "if there was ever such a thing as a nice Nazi, it was Hermann Goering". Yeah, I mean we only have his signature on memos talking about thrashing out the details of the Final Solution. I can't remember the actual book well enough to say if the reviewer (whoever it was) was picking up on a ghastly mistake made by Terrance Dicks or just making a ghastly mistake of his own.

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daibhid-c 5 years ago

Pretty sure it was a ghastly mistake of the reviewer, but an understandable one in the context of the book. IIRC, Terrence does portray Goering as the most reasonable and friendly of the high command, but equally, as the guy who's *doing this anyway*; not a carictacure of a monster, but still a monster.

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jane 5 years ago

Terrance does portray Goering as the most reasonable and friendly of the high command

On the one hand, Goering's portrayal comes closest to addressing Phil's admonition, because portraying Goering's personal demeanor, even charisma, makes him *human* and makes his atrocities *human* horrors rather than space-alien horrors. On the other, Dicks doesn't really go out of his way to show the more monstrous side of this man -- reading Exodus, I never got a sense of the utter contempt Goering in which he held other human beings.

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jane 5 years ago

maybe wishful thinking on my part but (I read this first when I was 14) I really only saw the Timewyrm's influence on the events at the castle as her fault, everything else was ours.

This interpretation could work, except for War Chief, who teaches Hitler's high command the arts of propaganda and psychological manipulation.

So, not only are the Nazis empowered by aliens rather than people, they're the responsibility of a renegade Time Lord. It's almost like indicting the TV show for the horrors of humanity. Almost.

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Andrew Hickey 5 years ago

Which is probably actually a point in Dicks' favour -- Goering was, by all accounts, the most charming and likeable of the Nazi high command, and managed to get a great deal of respect even from the guards in the prison at Nuremberg. He simply didn't seem like a monster to people, even though he clearly was.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

Indeed - the Doctor outright says that Nazi propaganda "doesn't really belong in this century" before revealing that the War Chief is behind Hitler's rise. That's the part I find so insidious.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

Except he's not standing in the way of Ace's purity. She's saying that if Gilgamesh touches her, she'll fight back. He says she shouldn't do that.

The analogy isn't, as Andrew suggests, whether the Doctor would have stood by if the perfect sacrifice had been unwilling. It's whether he would have stood by if it had been Ian up for sacrifice.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

I think Goering is one of the best done parts of the book, precisely because he's still unambiguously a terrible person and a Nazi, but it's so easy to get seduced by him momentarily and enjoy his team-up with the Doctor. And I think Dicks is doing something very clever there, because this is what he describes Hitler as being like, even to Ace. But the reader is going to be too able to resist ever liking a character named Hitler, so instead that reaction gets moved over to Goering.

As I said, much of what Dicks is doing in Exodus is fantastic, simply because he really does believe he's doing something intensely morally and conceptually challenging by dealing with Nazis. And while he's not, at least by 1990s sci-fi standards, which are what the New Adventures typically demand to be read by (for better or for worse), there's still a wonderful power to a book written in the sincere conviction that Nazis are the absolute worst and most horrifying thing that anyone can write about. Simply because he's right, just not in the sense that people mean when they say "for grown-ups."

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William Whyte 5 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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William Whyte 5 years ago

What happens in the first scene?

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

The Timewyrm, or, rather, the alien that eventually becomes the Timewyrm, crashes to Earth. I admit, I'm not sure, reading it, what the gun Bob is referring to is.

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tantalus1970 5 years ago

It does portray Goering as a slightly more likeable person than the others, but I think that's mostly because the plot needs the Doctor to have a 'go-to' guy in the Nazi High Command.

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tantalus1970 5 years ago

The 'Hitler possessed by an alien' plot is a real weakness in Exodus, although to be fair it is at least executed fairly well. And Dicks isn't the only one to have had that idea. How many times did fans on message boards suggest a story where Hitler would turn out to be the Master?

I think Dicks' approach was that the reader shouldn't need to have it explained that the Nazis were bad; they should already know.

I love that the Doctor's criticisms of the interrogation techniques are purely technical, rather than moral. Because the reader (who would be presumed to be a DW fan) already knows that the Doctor is morally outraged inside. In that sense, he is a generic Doctor, rather than the 7th specifically. But if you're going to do generic Doctor, Terrance is your man.

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Aaron 5 years ago

He's talking about the Ace losing her memory scene, which some people use to slot the Big Finish audios in before the New Adventures. Which I think trivialises both ranges, but, y'know, that's just me.

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Bob Dillon 5 years ago

I was talking about that scene, but in relation to the Gallifrey Chronicles

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

Ah. In that case the answer is "I've never actually read the Gallifrey Chronicles."

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Gnaeus 5 years ago

"Which brings us to Timewyrm: Genesys, a book whose sole claim to being for adults amounts to the fact that Gilgamesh sexually assaults everything in sight and everybody focuses on breasts a whole lot. "

Err, no. It is worth noting that the one person Gilgamesh is not having it off with (or trying to) is Enkidu, and this despite the very obvious undertone (overtone?) of the epic. So it's being outré, but the sort of outré that isn't actually going to outrage anyone. How English.

"Ooh. Aren’t we edgy, talking about thirteen-year-old girls getting their breasts fondled by grown men because that’s how ancient Sumerian culture was and we’re being honest and oh gag me already while I take a bloody shower to wash the sheer ugliness of this sort of schoolboy version of “adult” off."

I thought I was the only person to actually have read the book and had this reaction.

But, laying aside the casual rape references, and the moronic "adult" element, we have a book written in a stultifying prose style, with a plot that would have made it on TV (circa 1974), but frankly has no business being in a book written fifteen years later. Its stultifying approach to the past ("People in the Bronze age were stupid, and their religious beliefs an be reduced to this A-B-C paradigm" seems to be the underlying thought process for much of it) and absurd need to literalise myth (Enkidu as a neanderthal, anyone?) is matched only by its enormous ignorance of subject (Swords in 2700 BC? Twenty-foot high stone walls thick enough for four men to walk abreast along the top? Ziggurats swarming with people?), its over-reliance on fanwank (see the final scenes in the TARDIS), the plasterboard-and-hope characterisation (Ishtar is bad enough, but the Brian Blessed knockoff Gilgamesh is possibly even worse) and Peel's terrible, terrible prose style.


"Because it shows what writing Doctor Who about serious topics can look like."
Preaching, pompous, two-dimensional and smug?

Look, I get that Exodus is a step up from Genesys, but that' about all you can say for it. It's still not good. It's... fine. On the level of a Target novelisation, in fact. I'm not unsympathetic to calling it good - after bludgeoning my eyes with Peel's effluence, it felt like a godsend to me, too. But still.

(I may be a bit bitter generally, as I made several bad reading choices around the same time - including buying "The End of Mr. Y".)

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Ununnilium 5 years ago

So you're going to use quotes from the Big Finish audios for the New Adventures books? Innnnnnnnnnteresting.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

Not quite - the quote is from The Ice Warriors. The difference from normal practice is that it's not a quote from the Doctor.

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jane 5 years ago

Yes, let's have a go at Peel's "prose" -- feel like I'm sullying the concept of "prose" simply by juxtaposing the word with this dreck. And it's not just Peel, much of the awfulness of the writing I lay at the feet of the editor. The word "grimly" gets special abuse, but such an observation is easy to miss amidst the inundation of adverbs.

At least Dicks' style is clean, but it lacks any kind of literary aspiration I can discern. Even when the TV show was produced under the meanest of budgets, I always had a sense they understood the language of television as having value in of itself, that there could be some artistry in telling a story. Looking ahead, Exodus may be a better story than Apocalypse, but at least Robinson shows signs of caring about writing in of itself.

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Ununnilium 5 years ago

Ahhhh, okay. Very good then.

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Jesse 5 years ago

Just wanted to express my admiration for this sentence: "A failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in the USSR, many of the Soviet republics declare independence, and the Super Nintendo is released."

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AndyRobot800 5 years ago

I gotta say - I was a little worried that - because the NA's had a lower readership, this is where people would lose interest. But 27 comments in the first day? Not too shabby.

Anyway - Genesys... is terrible. It's full of ickiness. Horrible way to start the line - and I wonder how many people picked it up and thought "well, these books are going to be terrible," and then never read anything else. My Dad did that. But it ain't boring, which you can't say about some of the NAs to come.

I still love Exodus, although I have to admit I never thought about Dicks' treatment of the Nazis in that way. Doesn't quite ruin it for me, especially not when there's a horrendously deformed War Chief with a weird spider body creeping around throughout the book.

Then again... his name is Kriegslieter. Which is German for... oh dear. So, did the TARDIS translation psychic... thingy... just not change his name or something? Because if everyone else is speaking German...

Oh, never mind. CREEPY SPIDER BODY!!!!

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Matthew Celestis 5 years ago

I read Timewyrm Exodus when I was eleven. I don't think I had ever enjoyed reading a book as much as Timewyrm Exodus before, even though I had read countless Target Novelisations. Not only did I read TW Exodus again and again, but it inspired me to read lots of history books too.

I love Terrance Dicks.

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Aaron 5 years ago

Your reading of this makes that abhorrent, yes. I've always read it as Ace judging through the whole book, and the Doctor finally stopping her and saying "look, we can't always judge other cultures like this" in the general. I can't imagine Peel meant it such that the Doctor was telling Ace she needed to be okay with being sexually assaulted. Instead, I think he's (maybe misjudgidly) trying to tell Ace to try and understand Gilgamesh not as a pervert, but of his time.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Another world event happened in 1991: I was born. :-P

Great post, Phil, though I'm surprised you didn't, with Peel, touch upon the ruinous "War of the Daleks" controversy...

Also... this fellow, a few years back, made a rather interesting argument concerning Dicks's War Chief; might be interesting for you to read it: http://davidrestal.blogspot.com/2007/09/is-master-war-chief.html ;-)

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

War of the Daleks' time will come.

God help me.

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BerserkRL 5 years ago

"Release the Super Nintendo!" -- Liam Neeson

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Ununnilium 5 years ago

You whippersnappers! Get off my lawn, etc.

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jane 5 years ago

Anyway - Genesys... is terrible. It's full of ickiness. Horrible way to start the line

And, yet there's something redeeming about it, I thought. Yes, the execution is terrible, much of the content is questionable, and insofar as it tries to depict "history" it mangles it up (not to mention Ace's history -- she never went to Paradise Towers) but there's something rather apropos about beginning the line by dropping into one of the oldest myths preserved as literature.

Nor is it completely without literary merit. On the face of it, Peel's propensity to jump willy-nilly between POVs seems amateurish, yet given the nature of the Timewyrm's ability to invade multiple consciousnesses, I can support such a decision. And sure, we get clunky contemporary phrasing like suggesting someone's grateful for a "steady job" but we also get occasional glimmers of thoughtfulness, like, "the goddess condescended to visit us."

Oh but I wish he had an active editor! Someone who could appreciate naming a character Ninani, alluding to Inanna, but who would also point out the character bears little resemblance to her mythic counterpart, someone who could point out that giving a physical description of a character by having her look in a mirror is terribly cliche, not to mention doing it twice, someone who'd realize you couldn't see the top of a twenty-foot wall to discern its width, let alone what its occupants are doing, without having the vantage point of superior elevation.

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peeeeeeet 5 years ago

I could be wrong, but I *think* that was from an interview with Dicks that was incorporated into the review, rather than the review itself - so it was Dicks himself who was saying Goering was at the nice end of the Nazi scale. If it wasn't, the reviewer was the esteemed (or should that be erstwhile :) ) Gary Russell. I might see if I can dig it out and check.

[Meanwhile, these recaptchas are getting ridiculous. One looked like a photograph of a bit of door furniture and it said "type the word". Dr Judson would have a fit]

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encyclops 5 years ago

The first New Adventure I read was Love and War, probably because I'd read online that it was good. (...it wasn't bad. But we'll talk about that eventually.)

I have a good suspicion that part of the reason I didn't start in on these earlier, and never got around to reading any of the Timewyrm books, was that they had the word "Timewyrm" in the titles. It struck me as absurdly pretentious for the title of a Doctor Who story, particularly when followed wyth a wyrd lyke "Genysys." Ugggghhh.

On the basis of subject matter alone, my gut feeling is the opposite: a book about a Sumerian goddess impersonator full of sex and loincloths sounds infinitely more appealing to me than a book about Nazis, even a good one. I mean, apart from the obvious sex > death issue...I'm sure we'll talk more about this when we get to "Jubilee" (and "Let's Kill Hitler," for that matter) but I'm really beginning to feel that it may be very difficult now even to do _good_ fiction about Nazis, that familiarity has bred desensitivity whether they're alien-inspired villains or loathsome depraved sadistic humans.

But of course these books aren't subject matter alone, and yes, I have to agree that the hierarchy of awesome things does look more like this:

(AWESOME)
Sexy time in the ancient world



Having Gilgamesh put his hand down your shirt (if you're me)













Having Gilgamesh put his hand down your shirt (if you're Ace)

Being told to forgive Gilgamesh for putting his hand down your shirt




Nazis

Space Nazis
(NOT SO AWESOME)

I guess sexy time in the ancient world might not REALLY be so awesome, what with diseases and limited access to showers and so on. So maybe consider those relative endpoints, or read this as referring to the world of fiction rather than reality.

But yeah, speaking of fiction, the writing does indeed sound atrocious and maybe okay, respectively. I'm really going to enjoy reading about these books without actually having to read them, I think.

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Anton B 5 years ago

Yes, I can't thank you enough Phil for relieving me of the ghastly (from the, admittedly limited, evidence so far) task of having to read these books. I think the important question this all raises, and one I hope you'll address is - How far from 'Doctor Who' does a thing (Book, audio, Fanwank slashfic, lunch-box) have to be before it ceases to be 'Doctor Who'? The answer of course may only be subjective. For me the list of 'Not Whos' must include a few of the TV episodes while my list of 'Is Whos' includes a few personal creations which no-one outside my circle of friends will have heard of. This isn't the old 'Canon' debate but something else. Attempting to define what a thing is not can only place what it may actually be into focus. The shift into the 'written word' level which you, and the show at this point, have made provides a servicable vehicle to attempt some cartgraphy of its meta-fictional landscape, otherwise I fear we may get bogged down in the 'so and so was a terrible writer' and 'this writer can't do dialogue' arguments.

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peeeeeeet 5 years ago

Yeah, it was Dicks, and the quote is a bit more reasonable in context:

"Goering was as evil as the rest - I think a good Nazi is a contradiction in terms, but Goering was about as near as you could get."

It is telling elsewhere in the interview that he compares the Nazis to Al Capone or the Krays - he essentially sees them as crooks and gangsters who just happened to be in power.

Here's a scan of the relevant page, loves

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peeeeeeet 5 years ago

(Ooops, that link falls foul of the hotlink protection. You'll have to refresh the page after clicking it to get the image)

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AndyRobot800 5 years ago

I'll grant you the "dropping into one of the oldest myths in literature" thing. And the "Paradise Towers" thing turned out to be one long shaggy dog story (if you ever read the 8th Doctor book, The Gallifrey Chronicles, published 15 years later, you'll know that. Clever Lance Parkin.)

A big part of the charm of the NAs was "hey, we're a bunch of crazy kids and we'll publish ANYTHING!" Problem is, that leads to the "inactive editor" thing, too...

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AndyRobot800 5 years ago

It's not the fact that there's lots of sexy-time, it's the fact that it's really badly done, kind of shoe-horned in... and yeah, there's that unfortunate moment where Ace is like "hey, I sure hope Gilgamesh doesn't sexually assault me" and the Doctor's like 'oh, don't be so judgmental."

I'm totally down with sexy-time in Doctor Who fiction. In later books, I've cheered on companions for getting it on. It's just that it was handled so badly here that it immediately triggered a wave of complaints by sexually repressed fanboys going "oh dear, no sex in Doctor Who please! we want more stories where the daleks fight the ice warriors and the meddling monk turns out to be the Doctor's father. And NO DIRTY SEX!"

Luckily, this attitude only manifested itself on the letters page of Doctor Who Magazine, and (rarely) in the books themselves... but still, it cast a pall over the stories.

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Jack Graham 5 years ago

That's not how I remember the paragraph at all. The memory cheats, I guess. It's still a stupid thing to say, even with the qualifiers. Goering was directly involved in initiating the holocaust, unlike lots of members of the Nazi party. So he's nowhere near as near to being a "good Nazi" as you can get.

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Tommy 5 years ago

In terms of doing a more adult version of Doctor Who, I think the mid 80's to early 90's Audio Visuals well predate what the New Adventures were doing.

As for Ace being chastised for wanting to resist her would-be rapist, it may be more vile than anything in the TV series, but unfortunately it's not unprecedented. Not when Warriors of the Deep has the Doctor chastising humans for planning to defend themselves against invading creatures who will murder them otherwise. I have a horrible feeling a story like that made John Peel feel like he'd got the voice of the Doctor.

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encyclops 5 years ago

AndyRobot800, I totally got all of what you mention in the first paragraph -- it's even on my diagram of awesome/not so awesome.

I didn't know about the fanboy reaction, though. Sigh.

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encyclops 5 years ago

I think we've already learned that everything is Doctor Who, including lunchboxes. It's all part of the groovy no-rules-man anything-goes spirit of this "text." ;)

But seriously, I do empathize with the resistance to debating canon, if for no other reason than that you have to include the TV Movie no matter how you slice it, and if there's one thing I want desperately to ignore, it's that.

Is the angle you're taking on this the question of how badly can you write Doctor Who before it becomes not only terrible writing but a story about different characters in a different universe who just happen to have the same names?

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Jesse 5 years ago

If there's one thing I'm sure of, it is that bad writing does not disqualify a text from being Doctor Who.

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Anton B 5 years ago

Yes and no. As Jesse suggests, if bad writing were the arbiter we'd have to disqualify a great deal of the classic era. I'm pretty sure there isn't an answer but am suggesting that as, of course, we Eriditorites know that 'everything is Doctor Who' (except Noddy) but that shouldn't preclude us attempting to map the boundaries (while keeping in mind that 'the map is not the territory').

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DocBenway 4 years, 1 month ago

I understand that some folks have criticized the novel because they feel that having the War Lords seeking to manipulate the Nazis undercuts the very real, very savage, and very human [not alien] nature of fascism. Here is my take on the situation: I see the points these folks are trying to say but in the end I don't think any of the aliens in the novel are responsible for Nazism. They are just tagging along, mostly. First of all, yes, the Timewyrme is in Hitler's brain, but she doesn't seem to have accomplished anything other than making Hitler freak out from time to time like Orson Wells rampaging around the room at the end of Citizen Kane. She has had no strategic impact and her presence in Hitler's brain seems to be a total wash. She is powerless and impotent. Second of all, yes, the War Lords are working with the Nazis, but all they really seem to have accomplished is to juice up Hitler's speeches with a bit of techno-gadgetry. And that doesn't seem to have had a profound effect either. Ace cries when she hears Hitler's speech, but she isn't converted or brainwashed, so, in the end, I think the effect of the War Lords' intervention was just to increase the psychological effect of the speeches slightly on those who were already susceptible to them, etc. The War Lords have a presence as a sub-cabal within the SS but they are mostly along for the ride, are not responsible for producing Nazism, and are just waiting until they can change history and by helping the Nazis win WWII, afterward they would use the soldiers and infrastructure to begin a campaign of universe domination.

So, in the end, I think the criticisms that the Timewyrm and the War Lords truly "responsible" for Nazism within the novel are overstated and exaggerated.

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David Gerard 3 years, 8 months ago

"Continuing with 1990, it’s another World Cup, and the West Germans win everything"

Except official theme song. England definitely won on that.

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otr214430 2 years, 11 months ago

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