Thursday, 17 November 2016

Doctor Who - American Adventures

These collections of  themed Doctor Who short stories have been a lovely idea; books such as Tales of Trenzalore and The Legends of Ashildr have explored the fertile territory where the TV show left gaps. The latest collection (so far as I can make out, all written by Justin Richards) is slightly different; a collection simply linked by being set in the USA.

It’s a connection which often feels tacked on, with the collection often feeling like a series of generic Doctor Who stories which happen to take place in the same country (and in one case, not actually in that country). The periods in history feel like backdrops rather than thoughtfully chosen and the speech patterns of the characters we do get don’t distinguish them from European or Asian people. These are dashed off postcards rather than an interesting exploration of a British icon travellign through American history. At a push Taking the Plunge is the only one which really benefits from the setting; a fun idea which mixes theme parks and capitalism for what could be read as a subversive critique. The remainder of these adventures could have been set anywhere;  Off the Trail isn’t even set in the US and Spectator Sport’s connection feels like a contrived link to let the author use an idea he’s had sitting around. It’s a mild shame as there’s plenty of locations and events which, with a little more thought, could’ve made evocative and thrilling backdrops for stories.

This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the stories weren’t generic too –mainly invasions with a couple of pieces of generic skulduggery;  all foiled in under 30 pages. The Doctor’s rarely unduly troubled by any of the adversaries he comes up against with the worst trouble he has being someone having to pass him his sonic screwdriver in a moment of crisis.  This means that all the stories feel a little pointless – without any real jeopardy the Doctor’s never tested and consequently they all pass by efficiently but without leaving a trace – to use an appropriately American metaphor it’s fast food Doctor Who: all perfectly entertaining while you’re reading them but very little that’s memorable afterwards.Received an ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Descent of Man

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to nominate Grayson Perry for king and queen, as Caitlin Moran does, but I’d certainly nominate him for court jester. Court jesters are traditionally the ones who can get away with saying the unsayable in the presence of the powerful and that’s just what Perry does here.

Essentially this is Perry considering the traditionally masculine role in society with an artist’s eye; whilst the conclusions he reaches at the end may not be startling it’s how he reaches them that’s fascinating. What makes it so is Perry’s background; whilst his transvestitism and attachment to his teddy bear are well known his nearly joining the army and attachment to macho culture icons was less so. It makes for a fascinating mix; he’s able to discern the significance and iconic nature of clothing (though I suspect he goes a touch too far in the popularity of wearing jeans) and identify how the traditional masculine role has been eroded by social and technological progress. That’s best illustrated in the brief passage about the Durham Miners’ Gala, which he astutely observes as a kind of funeral of a way of life.  While it’s astute he also identifies it as a social problem; where’s the outlet for rugged masculinity and its rutting stags nature? That’s a question he considers but can’t quite find an answer to; the ritualised combat of sport only goes so far.

Ultimately Perry’s conclusion is a fascinating one; the need for a feminism for men which doesn’t descend to the fatuous mentality of ‘men’s rights’. Men, he concludes, would be stronger for being flexible, vulnerable and uncertain rather than taking refuges in lists, processes and the need to be right. ‘Men’s Rights’ is hankering for a nostalgic past of heroes, of right and wrong being easy choices.  Progress, he concludes, would be men embracing more traditionally feminist values just as feminism had absorbed and transmuted traditionally masculine ones. In a time which has often felt like a convulsion of traditional men striking back at social progress they don’t like Perry’s theories are convincing on the personal and social levels. Perhaps this book’s a step along the way to dealing with the issues modern masculinity can’t or won’t face and, in identifying them, dealing with them.

(Received an ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review).