Friday, 21 October 2011

Everything Picture 6 - Timey Wimey Remix

Even if you removed the cover images and the names and descriptions of the Doctor and his companions from the text, you could easily tell these books are based on Moffat's version of Doctor Who - all of them play tricks with time and all three take place in different time zones, although all three come up with very different variations on the timey-wimey theme.

Touched by an Angel comes across as an attempt to rewrite One Day as a Doctor Who novel via (I assume) the Highway to Heaven-esque US TV show from which the book steals its title.  Given that much of the best Doctor Who is stolen from recognisable stories, it's a matter of taste as to whether you think it's a good thing or not - many of the best stories have been openly based on obvious antecedents.  Morris opens the novel with the tragedy that forms the book's MacGuffin, a woman called Rebecca dying a meaningless early death in an accident on a minor country road.  Morris' way of integrating One Day into the Doctor Who format is to make the story about Mark, Rebecca's husband, being offered the chance to prevent the accident via a mysterious letter from a Magwitch style benefactor.  And the price of one man's happiness?  The end of Earth's history just to provide a feast for a band of Weeping Angels.  It's well executed stuff, with the Morris using the Angels as the omnipresent threat they were in Blink and Mark and Rebecca being as convincing as they need to be to carry the novel.  Morris perhaps overdoes the use of pop music as shorthand to show when the book's set, and takes a turn to the saccharine for the ending but the book retains enough charm to more than compensate for those faults.

My previous encounters with George Mann were both via short story, one in the Short Trips collection Transmissions and the other from Obverse Books' Iris Abroad. It's a rarity for me to say that I enjoyed both as Doctor Who can be a difficult format to condense into a short story.  Mann's short story experience isn't quite as irrelevant as it may seem, as with the other two books here it's shaped around one main guest character who the author spends plenty of time establishing.  Angelchrist is an Edwardian adventurer in the literary lineage of Professor Challenger or Allen Quartermain, a one man forerunner of UNIT.  As such, he couldn't really fail to be thoroughly entertaining and you can easily imagine a veteran British character actor making a memorable success of the part were he ever translated to screen.  The antagonists of the book are the Squall, a hive mind creature that resembles a gargoyle and feeds on minds.  Of course, if they manage to spread their infection beyond the confines of the part of London we meet them in they'll suck the Earth dry and irrevocably change galactic history.  They're an ingenious and effective race, and I wouldn't be sorry to see them make a return appearance.  The major paradox is perhaps a little too straightforwardly resolved for my taste, but again, it's a flaw overcome by some good prose and excellent characterisation.

The final book in this batch is easily the best to feature Matt Smith's Doctor, perhaps even the best of the NSAs full stop.  Doctor Who's previous satire about the monetary system, The Sunmakers, was something of a sour attack by Robert Holmes on the tax system of the 1970s, the usual profusion of droll lines not concealing an ill disguised ire on the part of the writer which blunted the satiric intent.  Naomi Alderman's satire is equally as unsubtle, perhaps less, but as it's less judgemental it works much better.  Alderman uses the notion of a satirical portrayal of the banking practices to underpin the whole novel, letting it feed into everything from the nature of her villains to the settings, characters and resolution.  The temptation offered by the villains - more time - is one few people could refuse, a desired convenience out of our current technological reach.  And as it's one you can imagine normal humans falling for in a heartbeat, there's already a note of verisimilitude to characters that, say, everyone in the world having the same satnav system doesn't really provide.  You can sympathise with the characters because they're acting in a believable way from the start.  Alderman's use of the regulars to take a sly poke at corporate culture is ingenious too - it uses our familiarity with them, and Amy and Rory's normality, to point out the little idiocies that build up in any workplace, particularly high powered ones.  Alderman delivers a solid gold idea wrapped up in a rollicking adventure with a soupcon of wit.

In short then, easily the best batch of books the NSAs have yet delivered.  The future's bright... unless, of course, it's destroyed by dastardly aliens...

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