Thursday, August 28, 2008

king edward potatoes

Sting of the Zygons

This is undoubtedly the best Stephen Cole book I’ve read. It is, if I’m not mistaken, the first historical Doctor Who he’s done (at the very least, for the new series) and I’m pleasantly surprised at how well he does in the genre. It helps, of course, that he’s working with Robert Banks Stewart’s cracking good idea, but to be absolutely fair, Cole writes the Tenth Doctor extremely well. Justin Richards didn’t quite capture him in The Resurrection Casket, and I don’t remember being particularly impressed with the Doctor in Feast of the Drowned. The story is good enough to keep the action going for the length of the madcap adventures, and there are a surprising number of interesting supporting characters. Jolly good show.

The Zygons are wonderful monsters, and planting them in the Lake District in 1909 is very droll indeed, even though Martha should have remarked in “Human Nature” at some point about getting to know the bloody Edwardians very well. Maybe she did, we weren’t privy to all of her thoughts. I love the matter-of-fact way Cole introduces our heroes: Skinny and dark-eyed, he looked to be in his thirties but was really far older. . . . then turned to the slim, attractive black girl who was hovering in the police box’s doorway. (Of course I do love the way Simon Guerrier keeps talking about the Doctor’s hair and eyes in The Pirate Loop . . .) The pacing for the first few chapters is excellent and includes the Doctor and Martha rip-roaring through the countryside with a “young buck” named Victor in his Opel. Victor is a lovely character, full of great (I assume) period vocabulary. He doesn’t fall in love with Martha but seems genuinely impressed by her smarts, eh what. I also like how Lord Haleston, our token naturalist, describes Martha, very much in contrast with the way the Doctor describes her on the same page: . . . a striking girl from the colonies . . . “she’s an expert in the very latest medical training.”

While Guerrier exploited Martha’s lovesickness for the Doctor at every opportunity—and hey, I would do the same—Stephen Cole prefers to ignore it altogether (he did that with Rose, too, in The Monsters Inside; methinks he’s not a touchy-feely kinda guy). Nevertheless, their partnership is great fun. There’s a hint of the irrepressible Martha from “The Shakespeare Code” (though at the time I remember that annoyed me about her) as she compares their experience to Gosford Park. She and the Doctor play stone-scissors-paper to get the biggest room in the inn (not sharing this time, oh no, and Cole’s lack of angst on this was barely noticeable) as well as to get the first bath. The Doctor taking a bath in a tin bath and a jug of hot water in a freezing cold room is an amusing image, and I mean that in the least dirty way possible.

I’m surprised that when the Doctor and Martha meet Claude Romand, the docu-dramatic journalist from Paris, he isn’t reminded of a similar Parisian named Ledoux he met in the Exposition in 1900—but then, it was a long time ago to him. There was a kid in The Clockwise Man, and one in Winner Takes All, I believe, but all quite boring in comparison to the rambunctious (and appropriately named) Ian. Somehow his relationship with Martha reminded me of Mary Lennox and her governness in the musical of The Secret Garden, which gave the atmosphere a buoyant, fun quality—though Cole can turn on the horror on a whim, and there are Zygons lurking in unexpected bodies. The bouncy, terribly witty Doctor almost makes talking to cows believable, but I smelled an Important Plot Point brewing, and I was right. (To be fair, the Doctor and Destrii walk off into the sunset talking to cows at the end of The Flood, so a precedent has been set.)

If you haven’t seen “Terror of the Zygons,” you might be at a bit of a loss to visualize the Skarasen pet/hench creatures/food banks of the Zygons. You might be at an advantage, though, as Tom Baker being chased by dinosaurs in Scotland was a visually memorable image from the TV serial but maybe not one that stands up very well to the test of time. The Zygons are formidable enemies because they can change shape, they look horrid and their eyes are always “full of hate,” their sting is deadly (indeed, one tries to get the Doctor’s shirt off in order to sting him), and in this story, they’re majorly pissed off. I like that Cole tries to bring real motivation to monster baddies because they’re desperate, starving, and using their own children to help them survive. ‘Please,’ it said. Lowering his arm, the Doctor stared in disbelief. ‘You what?’ ‘Please.’ The Zygon raised its huge, misshapen head. There was something raw, almost desperate in its feral eyes. ‘Oh.’ The Doctor felt a twinge of guilt for getting its hopes up.

I’ve never quite understood why the Doctor needs to tell Martha this over and over—‘Never waste time in a hug.’ While the Doctor is full of frenetic energy in Sting of the Zygons, the country is populated with twits with guns and cyborg dinosaurs, parts of it really are Martha’s show, and it reminds me just how much I love Martha. My favorite scene is the end when Martha is surprised by Romand and Victor both kissing her hands in a friendly farewell gesture. I almost thought she was going to kiss Victor like she did Riley in “42.” Ah well, she found her man anyway, didn’t she? I haven’t had as much fun since The Pirate Loop!

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