And things just got a lot busier round here, but more of that at some point in the future. In the meantime, clearing a little headspace...
First up are the three new Doctor Who novels from BBC Books. You might've guessed from previous entries that I'm an absolute junkie for Doctor Who novels. Can't help myself, I've been collecting the damn things for over thirty years now and I just can't kick the habit - suppose it's more stimulating and cheaper than a drug habit. The latest batch are Matt Smith's print debut, Apollo 23 from Justin Richards, Night of the Humans by David Llewellyn and Brian Minchin's The Forgotten Army. Of the three my favourite was easily Minchin's book, primarily as it takes an absolutely ridiculous looking premise and has an absolute blast with it - it involves a New York, woolly mammoth and an invading army straight from one of Douglas Adams' throwaway Hitchhiker gags. It's also got that very Doctor Who thing of knowing how ridiculous the premise is but keeping a straight face long enough to get away with it, letting the humour arise naturally from absurdity. He's also got a very good handle on the Doctor and particularly Amy, who's the de facto lead in this one. Sarky, fiery, slightly insane yet kindhearted it's the perfect print Amy.
Apollo 23 is fairly standard fare from Justin Richards - it takes an intriguing image as a starting point (an astronaut materialising in a shopping centre) and unravels a well-plotted adventure out of it. There's nothing wrong with the book particularly, all the right elements of a good Doctor Who book are in place, but it just seems to lack a certain spark - Richards is exceptional on plot, but none of his characters linger in the memory long enough to survive the turning of the final page. It somehow sums up the current Doctor Who novels - there's no real room for surprises, and they're simply merchandise to be flogged on the back of the TV show. Whilst the TV show should be the focal point for Doctor Who, it feels somehow cheapening to have the novels so lacking in adventure, flair and surprises. They've not been so unambitious since the early 80s and the infamous days of Uncle Tewwy churning out a book a month.
I rather enjoyed David Llewellyn's mainstream debut Eleven, a blacker than George W Bush's heart character study comedy, and his Torchwood work's shown flair and humour. His The Taking of Chelsea 426 wasn't particularly distinguished, having plenty of good moments but never quite coming together into a satisfying whole. Night of the Humans is very much in the latter camp. It's got plenty of clever moments - the way the 'Humans' are named, and their whole society, the Nanobomb device and the nature of the planet for three - but I've come to the conclusion I'm not overly keen on the way Llewellyn sees Doctor Who. From his two stories so far Llewellyn seems to view Doctor Who as a British Star Trek - campy, old fashioned SF with cultural nods and winks dropped in. I'm not quite sure I'd agree with that, it can tell those stories but it can be so much more than that. I might be being unfair, Llewellyn might simply have been stuck with the offworld SF book of the three, but if there is a next time I'd love to see him stretch himself with an Earthbound or oddball story. The old cultural references mean it feels like an RTD era story rather than a Moffat era one too, which jars a little. Again, it's far from bad, but it lacks the spark and sheer exuberance that makes The Forgotten Army the standout of this bunch.
On the non-fiction side I've also been reading Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?'s collection of fanzine writings, the unsnappily titles Time Unincorporated 2: Writings on the Classic Series. As a disclaimer I know both Robert and Graeme, and can thoroughly recommend them as charming company for an evening. TU2, as I shall space savingly refer to it from here on, is a spiritual sequel to Paul Cornell's Licence Denied (also the inspiration behind Shooty Dog Thing). Both are well qualified to edit such a volume - Graeme spent more than ten years editing the Doctor Who Information Network's highly professional magazine Enlightenment, and Robert runs the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, the largest collection of Doctor Who reviews online (certainly since Outpost Gallifrey went offline). It's a huge collection of musings on the Doctor Who produced between 1963 and 2004, and does draw extensively on both Graeme's magazine and Robert's website. There's nothing wrong with that when the material from both tends to be of such a high quality, not when such a breadth of other fanzines are represented. It might lack the scabrous edge of Licence Denied, but it's generally smarter. I'm possibly a touch disappointed that Tat Wood's The Frame essay on the scientifically worked through consequences of Axonite on the frog from The Claws of Axos isn't present (hey, it's funnier than it sounds), but it's a minor quibble, if you've read enough fanzines you're going to be disappointed by one or two of your favourite articles being omitted.
For me the highlights tended to be Graeme's own articles (if it wasn't such a worn down and useless descriptive cliche I'd use the word 'seminal' for his The Talons of Stereotyping) but I'd be remiss to not mention Paul Magrs lovely grab bag that leads off, Scott Clarke's 'Keys to A Time Lord' or Ben Hakala's 'The Re-Awakening of Mediocre Who', which implores us to treasure even the unmemorable stories. OR there's Dave Owen's 'Johnny Come Home', Deborah Standish's 'Classing Shipping' or the entire 'The Ones Who Made us' section... Even if an essay doesn't engage you, there'll be another smart, funny one along in a minute. A bit like Doctor Who itself really.