Friday, 3 April 2015

SEASONS OF WAR: Tales From A Time War - ed. Declan May (2015) PART 9

There's a strange line early on in Matt Barber's 'Fall' where the narrator remarks that the Doctor's face 'had a look of Don Quixote about it'.  Nothing wrong with that in itself, of course, but it does feel slightly peculiar to have such a comparison straight after a story in which he meets that Spanish literary eccentric - as though this is something significant, rather than merely an incidental effect of story placement.  That's about the only off-kilter moment in the tale though, as an elderly Brigadier makes his first appearance in the book, coming to the Doctor's aid against a Krynoid threat.  I have an admission to make at this point, though.  This isn't the best written story in the book, nor the one with the most interesting plot or the most unexpected twist on the standard Who tropes.  Which sounds like I'm about to say I didn't like it at all.  but in fact I loved it.  Everything in the story is more accurately described as 'competent' and 'solid' rather than 'brilliant' or 'exceptional' but there's something about the whole - about the mix of old and new favourites, about the obscure tv references and the knowing jokes, about the interaction between the Doctor, the Brig and everyone else - which works absolutely perfectly and turns this story into a real celebration.  This is how I picture the Brigadier in very old age, close, as he admits himself, to death.  Not slipping away in his sleep in a retirement home, but creating his only mini-army who he leads when the time is right and the old UNIT gang are required.  Actually, I tell a lie anyway - there's one element in which this story - rather than being 'merely' very good - is the best.  The author gets the elderly Brigadier spot on, from the straightening of his aged spine when called to action, via his feelings of pain when he allows one of his men (or women) to die, all the way to his own feelings of inadequacy and his realisation that war has chnaged his old friend, the Doctor.  It's beautifully done, and the ending almost reduced me to tears (it's also damn funny at points, I should add).  Another highlight in a book which positively sparkles with them.

Jon Arnold's 'Always Face the Curtain with a Bow', on the other hand starts with a bang and never lets up until it finishes.  With a combination of humour, pace and sheer brio, Arnold takes the readers on a terrific ride which reminded me at times of the work of the late Terry Pratchett and at others of the equally lamented Iain M Banks, as great jokes and mad ideas clash and collide in a frantic literary form of Brownian Motion.  I especially liked the mind eating penguins of Voltaria and the killer bunnies, but it's a slick story all round, with echoes of Philip Jose Farmer's 'Riverworld' and  the movie 'Groundhog Day' - which is just the sort of unexpected mashup Doctor Who is so good at, now I think about it...

'Help a Stranded Time Traveller' by Matthew Sylvester is considerably more straight-forward an adventure story, with the Doctor arriving as a ruthless and greedy criminal attempts to steal of wrecked TARDIS in order to sell it to the Daleks.  Sylvester is a confident, accomplished writer and if I don't say as much about this as other stories in the book, that's not an insult, but more a recognition that real professionalism is as often about creating something solid, comfortable and dependable than something wildly experimental or controversial. Sylvester has come up with a story which, in some ways, could be about the Sixth Doctor or the First as easily as about the War Doctor, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.

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