March 30th, 2010

tardis

March Books 24) Ten Little Aliens, by Stephen Cole

I'm a fan of Stephen Cole's more recent books, but this is experimental stuff which shows a talent still coming together. The story brings Ben, Polly and the First Doctor to an asteroid where a bunch of human soldiers are mounting a special operation against the alien Schirr; things go wrong it it becomes clear that they have collectively fallen into a trap laid by the aliens and their collaborators. The chapters (mostly) take their titles from Agatha Christie novels, which is a bit misleading - the real reference in the title is to James Cameron's Aliens, where there are clear resonances.

The core plot is competently done, but there are a number of things that don't work. First, Cole makes Ben a racist, and then this vanishes the moment Polly reproves him for it. This is too big an issue to be dealt with so casually. Second, there is a long section where the narrative is divided up between characters, choose-your-own-adventure style. I simply didn't have the energy to play that game and just skipped to the next section. Finally, it may have just been my low energy levels, but I found ten supporting character too many to keep track of.

Having said that, Cole does a decent characterisation of the fading First Doctor and a very good Polly. But I wouldn't recommend this to non-fans.
buzz

Aliens in the Mind

I've enjoyed listening to this 1977 sf radio story, in six 25-minute episodes, starring no less than Peter Cushing and Vincent Price (the latter with a mild American accent, but you can be sure it is him) delivering a script by one Rene Basilico based on a story idea by the great Robert Holmes. We start, à la Wicker Man, on a remote Scottish island where Funny Things Are Happening. Our heroes, who have turned up to discover more about the death of an old friend, conclude that the island is a nest of telepathic mutants. They pursue their investigations further in London, where they discover tendrils of the conspiracy percolating to the top of the Establishment (apologies for mixed metaphor). Hints are dropped that Sir Alec Douglas-Hume may have been one of those involved. Richard Hurndall, the stand-in for William Hartnell in The Five Doctors, makes an appearance as a respectable Scottish banker in the last episode.

It is not a flawless piece of drama: as with many six-part Doctor Who stories, there is not quite enough story to pad out the episodes, and also most of the time the mutants don't seem to be very threatening to the rest of humanity. But of course this is a story of the Cold War era, we could see the mutants as concealed Communists (or the conspiracy theory target group of your choice - Catholics? Jews? Homosexuals? Scots???) and Cushing and Price do a good double act of trying to get to the heart of the matter; and anyway their voices are simply very pleasurable to listen to. An interesting curio which leavened my diet of Doctor Who audios.