Friday, March 16, 2018

Alrightreads: Prestige Who

The point of these 1,000-page slots was that I hoped they'd force me to read something a bit substantial each month. It's only March and I'm already on Doctor Who.

My excuse is that this vaguely-defined 'range' of Who books recruited established, proper authors to write something more worthwhile than the usual cash-in merchandise, even if their singular styles were being watered down to fit into the the magical world of a children's programme.

These had better be good, or I'm going to look really silly.


Michael Moorcock, Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, or Pirates of the Second Aether

2010 / Audiobook / 343 pages / UK

**

After experimental, eccentric is one of my favourite flavours of Who, but it's a tricky tightrope. I enjoyed it when Douglas Adams wrote silly space pirates in the seventies (complete with robot parrot and LEGO® Technic eyepatch), but Moorcock's takes on anachronistic buccaneers and Wodehousian toffs come off like weak homages and don't give me much of an idea of what his own style might be like. I don't imagine many young readers made it through too many chapters, I would have called it a day too if it hadn't been in low-effort audiobook form.

This was written with the then-current stars Matt Smith & Karen Gillan in mind, but if the author didn't repeatedly perv over Amy Pond's beauty every time she stepped onto the page, you wouldn't know which iteration of the stock characters he was doing. When he even remembers that they're there.


Stephen Baxter, Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice

2012 / E-book / 311 pages / UK

***

Black-and-white Doctor Who collides with contemporaneous hard sci-fi in the Arthur C. Clarke mould, written by Clarke's frequent latter-day "collaborator" (i.e. the one who actually wrote Time Odyssey).

Baxter endeavours to tell a typically grandiose future tech tale in the style of a cheap sixties TV serial. These desires are fundamentally incompatible, but when the characters aren't explaining advanced sci-fi concepts or gazing at high-budget marvels of engineering, it's easy to imagine the cramped sets and guest cast putting on fake American accents to sound futuristic. It's a false-nostalgic treat, while the glow lasts.

Unfortunately, this authenticity extends to it being padded out with as much superfluous fluff as the old six-part serials. Was lumping future genius Zoe with babysitting duties while the men solve the sciencey problem some ironic period sexism too?


Alastair Reynolds, Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

2013 / Audiobook / 368 pages / UK

****

The very best Who stories are format-breaking. This isn't one of those, as Reynolds rebuilds the structure of the highly distinctive early-70s iteration of the series to an impeccable tee, basically giving us the best Pertwee serial never made. If you're a fan of the UNIT ensemble era, this is as good as Who lit gets. If you're an Alistair Reynolds fan, you'll presumably find it a bit confounding and embarrassing.

My only issue is that it's a bit hard to take seriously with that phallic spaceship cover and enemies called Sild.


A. L. Kennedy, Doctor Who: The Drosten's Curse

2015 / Audiobook / 368 pages / UK

***

It's foolish to get your hopes up when tie-in merchandise is set in the period of a series that happens to be your favourite, especially when it's a pastiche 40 years down the line.

Kennedy's Tom Baker horror story is as heartfelt and informed as her predecessors' were, her Tom Baker's spot-on, and she's got a nice turn of phrase like Adams and Moffat that keeps this story of a psychic monster lurking under a golf course appropriately light-hearted. It just comes off feeling more like one of those later Williams-era Gothic revivals than a classic from the Hinchcliffe years.

I almost lasted four books before my reviews descended to incomprehensible jargon, could have been worse.


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