November 14th, 2010


Whoniversaries 14 November: Paul McGann, Planet of Giants #3

i) births and deaths

14 November 1959: birth of Paul McGann, who played the Eighth Doctor in Doctor Who - The Movie, in numerous Big Finish audios since 2001, and in the webcast version of Shada.

ii) broadcast anniversary

14 November 1964: broadcast of "Crisis", third episode of the story we now call Planet of Giants. Barbara is poisoned; the Doctor starts a fire to draw attention to what is going on; and all ends well.

November Books 9) Wolfsbane, by Jacqueline Rayner

A Past Doctor Adventure with Harry and Sarah, which I picked up after last week's post prompted a reaction on Twitter from Jacqueline Rayner saying
"Did I really kill off Harry? I'm sure it wasn't proper killing off if I did, I love him too much."
To which Ian Potter responded rather telegraphically,
"Harry deaths possible branching future outcomes as I recall."
Jacqueline Rayner concluded the discussion:
"Oh yes, that sounds right. He definitely didn't really die then, phew. Thanks for remembering my books for me, Ian."
I was sufficiently intrigued to say that I was now bumping the book up my reading list, upon which loveandgarbage tweeted to me:
Intrigued what you make of Wolfsbane. I found it problematic - plugging into certain imagery to seek an emotional weight it lacked.
Well, despite all that preparation I found it a slightly perplexing read for continuity reasons: we have a situation where Harry leaves the Tardis somewhat accidentally one day in late 1936, and the Doctor and Sarah return two weeks later to find his tombstone and strange tales of werewolves. Meanwhile Harry, two weeks earlier, had met another Doctor, who I identified fairly confidently as Eight, but who seems unaware of Skaro, which I found odd (it turns out that the book is set in one of the periods of amnesia that various writers have seen fit to inflict on the Eighth Doctor, but of course this is not explained); and while I thought at first that Harry and Sarah were in the standard timeline between Revenge of the Cybermen and Terror of the Zygons, bolstered by the book's back cover which specified the Fourth Doctor and by an early reference to "That height, that hair, that grin, that ridiculous long scarf", I was then completely thrown by a later statement that the other Doctor in the story "wasn't a tall white-haired man, like Miss Smith's friend" which made me wonder if I had misread the earlier line and this was some alternate timeline (a la loveandgarbage) in which the third regeneration had not happened. On reflection this must be a simple mistake, but it is a very serious one, and distracted me from the rest of the book.

So, werewolves. I've actually read/watched/heard all of the other werewolf stories of Who (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Tooth and Claw on TV, Kursaal from the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the early but very good Big Finish Five/Turlough audio Loups-Garoux) and rather surprisingly they do generally work as a Who concept. Here, Rayner combines it with Arthurian legend and the rise of Fascism in Germany, and some fairly explicit magic (there is a seductive dryad who has no sfnal justification), and unlike loveandgarbage I thought that the imagery did bear the weight of the story. (I felt however that it flagged a bit in the third quarter, but picked up again before the slightly confusing last couple of pages.)

But it is not the werewolves or even the confusing Doctors that matter: the author in her tweets a week ago made it clear that the book was really meant to be about Harry, and it is an excellent tribute to the character who lifted pretty much every scene he was in, and who got a rather poor send-off in The Android Invasion for his pains. She draws very much not just on the slightly twittish but courageous character we saw on screen, but also on the Harry developed by Ian Marter (who better?) in his novel Harry Sullivan's War, somewhat nervous about women, but happy to get stuck in to defend the good guys whether or not he really knows what is going on. If you always wanted to see a story that put Harry front and centre, this is it. Any other Who fan will enjoy it despite the minor flaws mentioned above.

November Books 10) The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald

It's 2027 and Turkey has joined the European Union. In an old tekke in Istanbul, six people find their lives intertwined around a plot involving nanotechnology, the Nabucco gas pipeline, and the arcane secrets of the mellified man. There is a lovely echo between microcalligraphy and encoding information on junk DNA. It's Ian McDonald's best disciplined novel so far, I think, with all the lush description and present tense intensity that we are used to, but somehow coming together rather beautifully. Nic Clarke has a longer review of it here; I'll just note that as far as I can tell (based on my work in a Turkish speaking area outside Turkey over the last few years) Ian seems to have really got the measure of Turkish orthography and culture. A brilliant book.
doctor who

November Books 11) Doctor Who Annual 1977

I see that I posted my review of The Dervish House just an hour before I started to read the 1977 Doctor Who annual (included on the DVD of The Hand of Fear). It is a pretty quick read - 78 pages, but a lot of them are filler. As with the 1976 annual, I found the artwork really striking, apart from the depictions of Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan - though the artist, whether Paul Crompton or Glenn Rix, is getting a bit smarter about this and tries to make a habit of showing them from behind or in shadow - did the BBC simply not provide him with any publicity shots? However his Tom Baker is excellent (see right for an example).

Apart from the artwork, though, the stories are much blander than the previous year's, and the factual filler stuff is exceptionally basic information about the history of space flight and astronomy. It's slightly longer than the 1976 annual, but if anything slightly worse value.