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  • Title: DOCTOR WHO: THE CROOKED WORLD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Publisher: BBC Books
  • Pages: 252
  • Price: $6.95
  • Grade: B-
  • Title: DOCTOR WHO: HISTORY 101
  • Author: Mags L Halliday
  • Publisher: BBC Books
  • Pages: 275
  • Price: $6.95
  • Grade: B+

Doctor Number Eight

Two DOCTOR WHO novels every eighth Doctor fan should know about

By Richard Salter     November 03, 2002

The sole television appearance of the eighth Doctor, from the long-running DOCTOR WHO franchise, was a massive disappointment. But despite the general awfulness of the American made-for-television movie version of DOCTOR WHO, actor Paul McGann's interpretation of the character continues to resonate with fans of Whovian fiction. And so, CINESCAPE is pleased to bring you the skinny on two recent eighth Doctor book releases that every WHO fan should know about.

DOCTOR WHO: THE CROOKED WORLD




The wonderful cover of this book would have you believe that the Doctor enters a world of cartoons, and becomes one himself. Actually that's half true. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are actually the only 'normal' people on the Crooked World, and all its inhabitants are based on cartoon characters. There's Jasper the cat, always chasing Squeak the mouse and always losing. There's the stuttering Streaky Bacon, a pig with a blunderbuss and a field of crops to protect. And then there's the Skeleton Crew in their mechanically deficient blue van, who are always unmasking villains who would've gotten away with it if it weren't for those pesky kids.

THE CROOKED WORLD is about a closed society that is suddenly invaded by outsiders. The story concerns the changes the locals undergo when new ideas and concepts are introduced by the strangers. Change happens fast on this planet, and not all of it for the good. The TARDIS crew, eventually realizing that they are responsible for the newly found freewill of the planet's population, decide to stay and lend a guiding hand.

There are two major problems with this book. Firstly, before the Doctor arrives, these characters live lives we're all very familiar with: unmasking ghosts, blowing up their rivals, dropping ten ton weights on each other, etcetera. The changes introduced are fairly rapid, but once we've seen one character start to question the futility of chasing the same mouse all day everyday, we've seen them all. The first half of the book deals with this change, and it's too predictable. Things pick up when Jasper finally gets his revenge on Squeak, but by then I was already left a little cold by it all.

The second thing that bothered me was Anji. We know she's seen SCOOBY-DOO, she even thinks one of the characters in THE BOOK OF THE STILL looks like Velma. And yet she never makes the explicit connection, presumably for copyright reasons, and only after a long time does she realize that the people of this world are connected to Earth because they use dollars as currency. Huh?

There is some good stuff in here. There's a great scene where the Doctor rescues Fitz from the quintet of villains who are sick of always losing and so decide to team up. The Doctor uses the rules of this world to aid their escape brilliantly. The book needed more scenes like this. There's also an hilarious scene in a helicopter that is never directly explained. I had my suspicions, which were later confirmed when we are given a strong hint as to what really happened.

The ending feels satisfying. There is a reason why all this exists, and indeed some of the characters decide to take matters into their own hands and find out what their real purpose is and why it is that they used to be able to shoot people without anyone really getting hurt.

And yes, somebody makes the 'What's up, Doctor?' joke.

DOCTOR WHO: HISTORY 101




DOCTOR WHO: HISTORY 101 by Mags L Halliday

Barcelona is a beautiful city, one of my favourites in Europe. There's nothing quite like sitting in Las Rambles, drinking wine and watching the world go by. This is the setting for HISTORY 101, except the year is 1937 and the Spanish Civil War is making life in the city somewhat hectic. Despite the unrest, this book made me want to be back there again.

The eighth Doctor and his companions, Anji and Fitz, arrive in Paris during the Exposition, to see Picasso's Guernica, which depicts the razing of the town as expected but seems to be lacking passion and expression. Intrigued, the Doctor compares it to a second copy, this one more like the version he remembers, and is concerned that someone or something is playing with people's perceptions. Before you know it, Fitz is on his way to the doomed town to bring back a first hand account of its destruction, whilst the Doctor and Anji head for Barcelona to wait for him, and to try and find the source of the problem.

This is another debut novel, and once again BBC Books have chosen wisely. Halliday's setting is painstakingly researched, her prose always readable and engaging. There are some wonderful ideas here, including the depiction of Guernica's fate as witnessed by Fitz. These scenes serve to demonstrate the theme of multiple perceptions of the same event, and how history is recorded according to a point of view and is not necessarily exactly what happened. These are the best scenes in the book, and Sasha, Fitz's mysterious Russian travelling companion, is easily the most intriguing of Halliday's original characters. The rest, unfortunately, tend to blur a little at times, and don't seem as interesting. This is probably the biggest flaw with HISTORY 101, and unfortunately there are others.

While Fitz gets the best scenes in the first half of the story, the Doctor attempts to put together his broken TARDIS (and doesn't see what's rather obvious to the reader) while Anji collects and files things and draws maps. This goes on for months. I have no problem with novels taking place over extended periods of time, but we have to believe there is a reason for the delay, and in this case just waiting for Fitz to return isn't quite enough. Couple this with Anji's lack of impact on the plot in the second half, and Halliday's debut falls short of classic status.

There is a lot to enjoy though. Sabbath, the recurring villain of the latest story arc, is excellent in his few scenes, and I can't wait to read the next two books in this ongoing plotline to see where things are going. The story's plot is impressive and works well, and there's a real sense of craft to the way things come together and a delightful and fitting subtlety to the resolution.

Despite its flaws, HISTORY 101 is a bold, confident debut with an interesting concept and generous helpings of atmosphere in a living, breathing setting.

A Prelude/Postscript to HISTORY 101 appears in the fan-fiction anthology, MYTH MAKERS 12, available at www.dwin.org.

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at feedback@cinescape.com.

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