Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Doctor Who: The Glamour Chronicles" - "Royal Blood" by Una McCormack, "Deep Time" by Trevor Baxendale and "Big Bang Generation" by Gary Russell (A Review)

Three Doctor Who novels, three treasure hunts - one big quest. The Glamour Chronicles sounds reminiscent of The Key to Time serials from the Tom Baker era of Who, in which a series of adventures is loosely connected by a hunt for pieces of a large artifact, culminating in a showdown with the enemy. That's not quite what we get here...

What is the Glamour? It's a maguffin, that's for sure - the plot element that motivates a character to go from here to there, as Alfred Hitchcock would establish in a lot of his cat-and-mouse thrillers, but even if the answer wasn't entirely interesting, we knew what it was: Roger Thornhill was mistaken for a guy named "Kaplan", Richard Hannay was trying to find out what "The 39 Steps" are, etc..but it feels like we got 3 different answers to what the Glamour is. In Royal Blood, it's a shapeshifting sentient being. In Deep Time, it's a parasite/honeypot trap linked to an ancient race of "elder gods". In Big Bang Generation, it's a lodestone, a key that sets off a doomsday machine...I think (that one is a little muddy to me). It's implied the 3 books follow in that sequence via various remarks said in each book, but either of the last two have conclusions that could easily wrap it up, so this double solution (an Ellery Queen shoutout in Doctor Who - remarkable!) allows you to choose to read no further..ultimately, the Glamour isn't as interesting a prize as the situations wrapped around it. Regardless, the sales receipt revealed the numbering, so that was handy.

Royal Blood is the Doctor Who fairy tale story. Think The Curse of Peladon, The Androids of Tara, The Keeper of Traken, Robot of Sherwood, even Day of The Doctor, with Queen Elizabeth and the Zygons. Two warring kingdoms, the Doctor and Clara in the middle, then Sir Lancelot shows up, plus we get a "magic" amulet. It's all good stuff, plus McCormack employs a mixed-narrative with jumps from 2nd to 3rd person perspective, so we get to care about who these characters are that the Tardis team befriended. One problem: the Doctor has no scenes with Lancelot! I didn't get that at all...maybe the dialogues would've sounded too reminiscent of Twelve's with Robin Hood in Sherwood, particularly since he has the same skepticism about the Arthurian legend that he had with the green archer. Clara gets a lot of nice moments, here, although that might add fuel to the vitriol from fans who loathed the character and joked about changing the title to Clara Who. Grade : B+

Deep Time is the most suspenseful of the three volumes. The Doctor and Clara are last-minute passengers on a spaceship with a crew on a archaeological expedition that goes sour when the ship crashes on a planet that's evolving through time in increments, with the whole team along for the ride (reminds me of the planet from Star Trek III). There's frozen tundras, deadly plants, poisonous bugs, catacombs, haunted spacecraft, ghosts, the Tardis in peril and - the fans always eat this up - Time Lord mythology. Also, Twelve tries making coffee from recycled waste material. It's a good Doctor Who sci-fi/horror tale. Grade: A

Big Bang Generation, in theory, seems like an easy sell. It's got a reunion with one of the Doctor's old companions from the Doctor Who novels of the 1990s and audio plays by Big Finish Productions - Bernice Summerfield, who was one of the conceptual prototypes for River Song (the other being 'Time Lady' Iris Wildthyme). The problem is Bernice has too many supporting characters along for the ride, so the adventure is always digressing to what they're doing, what they're thinking. Imagine if The Husbands of River Song had Clara, Danny Pink, Rigsy, Oswin AND Missy tagging along with Twelve - there's no room for any of the scenes with the Doctor & River to have any weight. There are moments of Twelve & Bernice together that are very fleeting, but considering that this is the only companion known to have had sex with the Doctor (the documented kind, of course) and appeared in one the most acclaimed Doctor Who novels ever (Paul Cornell's 7th Doctor novel Human Nature, which was adapted into a two-part episode with David Tennant) then it feels like this is meant to get people interested in digging back into the old material to see what all of it means. Or not, since I  think there are limits to how much of that material should be considered canonical, even if it's name-dropped in episodes of the TV series. The adventure itself feels like a mashup of Time Heist with assorted special effects from The Christmas Invasion, The Stolen Earth, The Bells of St. John and Doomsday, with the alien bar from The Witch's Familiar. It's a book that warrants a 3rd or 4th read to get a handle on the details. Grade: B- (A- if you're familiar with the continuity of Bernice Summerfield and her adventures).

With 2016 featuring no new episodes, aside from a Christmas special, these 3 books are entertaining, brief and worth a look during the looonnnggg wait. Of course, I posted quotes. Enjoy!

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