Monday, 16 February 2015

SEASONS OF WAR: Tales From A Time War - ed. Declan May (2015) PART 1

[Seasons of War is a charity Doctor Who short story collection, edited by Declan May, with all prceeds going to the Caudwell Children charity.  It's a long book, with a lot of stories, so I'll be revieiwng it in chunks of 4-6 stories at a time over the next week or so...]

After a touching preface by Nicholas Briggs, remembering his friend Paul Spragg, to whom the book is dedicated...

The opening image, of a solitary man on a bleak crag overlooking a land of mist and swamp reminded me of the cover to the 80s Penguin Classic edition of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo and while I’m aware that’s an extremely up-myself way to start a review for a Doctor Who book, it also seems strangely fitting for a collection of stories featuring a Doctor so dark as to make the Seventh seems positively uncomplicated and angelic.    At this point in time, two pages in, I’ve no idea if it’s an image which accurately reflects the remaining one and a half million stories (or at least that’s how it feels when you look at the two pages of contents anyway – this is a book which gives value for money even if you buy the ebook then the limited edition paperback!) but it’s a quality I hope to see more in the pages to come.

Anyway, back to that first story..

If I had to describe it in a single word, I suspect I’d plump for ‘perverse’.  An opening story called ‘Epilogue’, which revisits another story titled, in part, ‘Genesis’, Matt Fitton’s timeless tale is more of an intriguing starter (or dessert - take your pick) than a fully-fledged story in its own right, but in a long collection such as this some stories serve as building blocks for others, and I get the feeling this is one of those.

Christ on a bike.  Next up is '1.  Karn’ by, I assume (it doesn’t say) editor Declan May.  This is the first thing I’ve read by the author, but bloody hell he doesn’t miss, does he?  Set a heartbeat after the events of the McGann-Hurt regeneration, this War Doctor isn’t the basically cuddly old curmudgeon we saw in ‘Day of the Doctor’, this is an absolute bastard.  Judged purely on his words and actions in these few pages, this is a Doctor to make the Master look kindly, a Doctor who cares about nothing bar victory, a Doctor who can forget the name of a dead woman in seconds and doom a mythical race in a moment.  I’m not sure I like him much, but it’s a brave decision and an impressive introduction to Mr May’s writing.

After two grim opening tales, ‘Crowsnest Past’ by Warren Frey comes as a welcome change of pace.  Where ‘Epilogue’ took place in a world of vicious peaks and ‘Karn’ featured a vicious Doctor, this one kicks off with a spot of fishing, as the Doctor (I’m just going to call him that, by the way - it’s only a missing adjective ,after all) sits in the door of the TARDIS and tries to catch a gumblejack or two (incidentally, this is the third story in a row to specifically reference an old TV episode – is this a deliberate thing, I wonder?).  Of course, it soon goes a bit horrible and scary, with burning eyed monsters attacking the helpless human settlement, but this is a ‘proper’ 21st century Doctor Who adventure, of a type I wasn’t sure we’d see in this book.  Kudos to the author for a solid Who story and to the editor for slotting it in here, just where it was needed.

I love Lee Rawlings’ ‘Eight Minute War’.  The writing itself is peculiar, disjointed and with an occasional lapse in vocabulary – exactly, in fact, as you would expect an alien to sound speaking a language not his own.  The fact that this is first person, and that the jagged nature of the text is consistent throughout makes me think this has to have been a deliberate choice by the author, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was impressed by the way the bewildered narrator describes events he doesn’t entirely understand and ends up confronting a Doctor who is a failure, no matter how you cut it.  We’ll never see something like this on television, in the new superhero version of Doctor Who, and in some ways that may be a good thing.  Rawlings’ Doctor is a hard man to respect… to buy the ebook.  There's a paperback (and reviews of the next few stories) yet to come...

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