November 2nd, 2014

tardis

October Books 12) Lights Out, by Holly Black

This is the very latest Doctor Who prose to be published, a short ebook by Holly Black, well-known horror writer for younger readers, which is actually a coda to the eleven ebooks published last year, one for each Doctor; presumably the whole lot will appear in paper as a collection soon. (My advice - buy it, but skip the rather weak opening story by Eoin Colfer.)

This is very good. We have a non-human protagonist and the Twelfth Doctor (between Deep Breath and Into The Dalek) having an adventure as a consequence of getting coffee at an interplanetary coffee joint, in which you find just precisely the sorts of aliens from both Old and New Who who you would expect to see stopping off for a break between adventures. The tropes of both the Whoniverse and sf more widely are beautifully handled and the story, though very short, packs a decent punch. Well worth the (very low) price.

I had not read any of Black's work before, being a couple of decades out of the target readership, but if this is her standard I can see why she has a following.
tardis

November Books 1) TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 5: Tom Baker and the Williams Years

The latest in Sandifer's collections of pieces from his long-running blog, this time looking at the post-Hinchcliffe Fourth Doctor stories (and therefore including not only the Graham Williams era, but the first year of Jon Nathan-Turner's producership). This includes some of the least popular stories ever (eg Underworld) but also some of the most (City of Death). Sandifer mounts a credible defence of Graham Williams - unfairly maligned by Nathan-Turner, and by fandom during the JNT era; dealing with appalling constraints both creative (instructed to tone down the violence after the Hinchcliffe years; then instructed to dial back the humour, which didn't leave much) and technical (the show, and the BBC, simply running out of money). He also finds more evidence than I thought possible for the influence of Douglas Adams on the show, not only during his time as scipt editor, but both before and after. (And, of course, vice versa.)

Most importantly, he finds that Williams was compelled to turn Doctor Who into the Tom Baker Show, which is of course great for us Tom Baker fans, but not so great for the show's long-term health. Nathan-Turner then took over and found himself in the same position as Innes Lloyd in 1966 - the show was defined around the lead actor; how to take it forward without him? One senses that Sandifer has more to say about JNT in future volumes, but here he concentrates on Christopher Bidmead's contribution to Season 18. There are the usual excellent side essays - one previously unpublished on versions of Shada, several on comics, novels and other SF media (in particular Star Wars), an explanatory note on the Winter of Discontent, and what I think is the first write-up of a Big Finish play in this series of books (a lovely piece on The Auntie Matter).

I confess I was a little disappointed on one or two points. The pieces on The Invasion of Time and The Leisure Hive didn't actually say much about either story, and I think both are interesting in their own right, for good or ill. Although he rightly singles out Lalla Ward for praise, I would have liked to read more about Louise Jameson and particularly John Leeson, who is given less page time than Matthew Waterhouse. A sequence of thought about David Fisher is started but not finished. There seems to be a lot of dialogue with Wood and Miles. And some of the key points about Williams and Nathan-Turner, summarised above, are repeated as often as you would expect in a series of blog posts, but perhaps more often than you would expect in a book that has been edited.

Still, if this is the weakest of the four volumes so far, that should in no way be considered faint praise; I'm nominating it enthusiastically for the BSFA and Hugo awards next year, and I hope you will too.