Thursday, 19 February 2015

SEASONS OF WAR: Tales From A Time War - ed. Declan May (2015) PART 4

[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...]

I’ve got a slightly complicated relationship with the novelist John Peel.  On the one hand, I actually enjoyed ‘War of the Daleks’ and think that a genetic cross of Chris Bulis’ workmanlike prose and Gary Russell’s flights of continuity fancy is something to be cherished, on some level.  On the other hand though, pretty much everything else’s he written has been too pedestrian to be linked to flying of any sort and has left me bored or confused (and sometimes both at once).  Fortunately, short stories allow Peel less time to get lost in his own canon-related knots and so what we have here is a competent, solid Doctor Who story, heavily laced with references to previous adventures, and none the worse for that.

‘Sonnet’ by Jenny Colgan, conversely, is anything but pedestrian or boring.  Rather it’s exactly what it claims to be – a short poem in which Shakespeare considers the Doctor and his past adventures.  A peculiar choice, perhaps, but like the earlier pastiche of Henry V, an enjoyable – if brief – experience.
Moving onto a more commonplace story telling format, Elton Townend-Jones wins the award for best image of the book so far.  ‘Five wet fingers…and a grasping, groping hand’ appearing from within a mug of tea is not your everyday occurrence, but it is the type of unexpected juxtaposition which the 21st century iteration of Doctor Who is very good at.   The amusing way that the author then skips over anything approaching a genuine technical explanation for what’s just occured also echoes one of the better tropes of the new series, as does the bittersweet ending – which, for my money, Townend-Jones nails more effectively than anyone else so far.  Another excellent story in a book so far filled with them.
In passing, the author’s choice of name for the female protagonist – Cass – is a little distracting, in that I expected it to be a call-back (or possibly forward) to the character from ‘Night of the Doctor’, but in the end it appears to be a co-incidence.
‘IV. Loop’ is another story by the Editor, though this one is considerably longer than previous such entries.  May makes good use of the extra space though, dipping inside the head of the War Doctor, early on in his mission, exhibiting his hopes and fears, but without descending to maudlin sentiment or (alternatively) jingoistic machismo.  Instead, we get a form of multi-Doctor adventure, complete with what I assume is the War Doctor just before he uses the Moment, and a rumination on the passing of time and the effect that can have on individual morality.
The last few stories have been something of a breathing space in the flow of stories – well crafted and well told, slightly smaller stories, with more emphasis on character building than pyrotechnics.  Exactly what any long collection needs at this point, in other words.
‘The Holdover’ by another name new to me, Daniel Wealands, throws us back into the middle of the Time War, however.  Clearly the Editor thinks that the Reader has had enough of the pleasant stuff for a while!  Wealands’ War Doctor is a cynic and a pragmatist, but more importantly, his Time Lords are most definitely no better than the Daleks (a position which the book as whole has only hinted at until now).  Internment camps, ethnic cleansing, conscientious objectors vilified and imprisoned – you can almost feel the stakes rising as you move from one page to the next, from one graphically described horror to the next.  Perhaps the links to the Nazis is a bit unsubtle, but it’s also effective in repelling the reader.  Indeed, if I had any criticism it’s that by the end you might well find yourself rooting for the Daleks, just a tiny bit, so revolting is the Time Lords’ plan and so vile its implementation.    The fact that the tv series demonstrates that the plan backfires horribly in the end is a consolation, I suppose, but still, this is dark, dark stuff… to buy the ebook.  There's a paperback (and reviews of the next few stories) yet to come...

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