Saturday, September 27, 2008

i love nine soooooooooo much

Only Human made me realize how much I had missed the Ninth Doctor. The last Ninth Doctor novel I read was either the Stephen Cole one or the Jacqueline Rayner one, and at that it was probably two years ago. It was to Gareth Roberts’ credit that he was able to capture the banter of Nine and Rose so well that immediately I was back into their world. And what a wonderful world it is. Add to it that this is the first official novel I’ve read in which Captain Jack figures, and I may have been bouncing off the walls, so gleeful was I.

I can just imagine the brief Roberts was given. “10, 000 BC” but better. Keep the elements of danger, the rawness, the disbelief, but kick it up a notch—add futuristic tech and monsters. Rose in wedding furs and the possibility of Rose getting raped are certainly throwbacks to the 1963 story. Part of the brief, too, must have been the old “challenge our assumptions” bit. With the Doctor’s help, we are meant to see the Neanderthals as surprisingly civilized, the world they live in as natural to us as can be, that, with the TARDIS’ help, Neanderthals speak normally and ancient, early humans speak like Rose’s mum (as utterly annoying as Roberts’ attempts in “The Shakespeare Code” to get everyone’s dialogue “hip” and James Moran’s similar tendencies in “The Fires of Pompeii”). One of the Ninth Doctor’s most alien qualities—but in a standoffish way, what sometimes made him quite sexy—was his facility for piling on the guilt to humanity, mostly in the person of Rose. He does this a lot in Only Human, making Rose feel bad that her ancestors destroyed the Neanderthals, making her feel bad that her natural instinct toward the Neanderthals is distrust since they don’t look like her. Similarly he makes her feel bad about the humans from the future also included in this story and about her 2005-era common humanity. But of course, she is the exception to the rule so he is often forced to eat his words. Though Gareth Roberts has a good sense of the absurd—Minnie Mouse-voiced Neanderthal in fancy dress party in Bromley—I’d like to know where he got all his info about Neanderthals. He doesn’t list any sources. Poo on him.

Roberts’ talent lies in satire, but it’s tempered by his genuine, passionate love of Doctor Who the institution. I don’t know what Bromley ever did to Roberts, but he really takes the mickey out of it. Looking at it cynically, he’s absolutely right to put down current Western culture’s obsession with leisure time as portrayed by the residents of Bromley with Rose, the Doctor, Captain Jack, and the Neanderthal unfortunately dropped into the future by a time rip engine, Das, especially in contrast to the Neanderthals’ more industrious obsession with feeding “the tribe.” Future humans do not escape his scathing commentary: in that era, humanity has taken laziness to an extreme, popping packs of chemicals whenever there’s “wrong-feeling.” People are uniformly gorgeous but dull. I admire Roberts’ creativity in this aspect, I found the future world he created highly interesting and entertaining. Roberts pulls no punches as far as language is concerned, somewhat shocking me. (Even if Roberts claims the TARDIS filters out swear words—‘Did she really say blinking?’ asked Rose. ‘That’s the TARDIS—got a swear filter.’) Sometimes I honestly think he goes a bit too far, like a non sequitur sequence included just to get in a dig at the church (which he pursued to a degree in “The Unicorn and the Wasp”). It’s always great to read a Doctor Who author enjoying writing the book as much as you are reading it, and that’s certainly the case with Roberts, who seems to get a bit of himself (and the reader) into the character of Weronika, a Polish NHS nurse who meets the Doctor, Rose, and a buck-naked Jack for about two minutes (very funny sequence). As they entered the lift, she [Weronika] found herself wanting to scream, I don’t know who you are, but take me with you!

Rather strangely, several elements of Only Human reminded me of my novel-length Nine/Rose/Jack story, St. Valentine’s Day, which I’ve never been able to finish, mostly due to the research required—but I have plotted it out the end. For example, it decides early on to separate Jack from the Doctor and Rose. Jack is required to help Das, who is trapped in the 21st century, to his new life there, while Rose and the Doctor are to go back in time to where Das came from. Do great minds just think alike? Or did both Roberts and I see the potential, but subtle, character-building inherent on showing the Doctor’s jealousy over Jack? That said, Roberts writes Jack with unabashed relish, and he is, in all his pre-Torchwood glory, our galactic buccaneer. Rose winced. ‘Could those trousers be any tighter?’ ‘Is that a request?’ (Bit of the Tenth Doctor-in-waiting there!) Also in common with my story, Roberts has Rose required to marry an ancient human named Tillun (in my story the Doctor has to break up her wedding to a 17th-century criminal overlord, but that’s telling). This is another excellent vehicle for Rose/Nine shippers to indulge their whimsy: He [Tillun] leaned over and gave her the snog of her life. Over her shoulder she heard the Doctor sighing. ‘What a terrible ordeal for you,’ he muttered with more than a hint of something that was either envy or fatherly protectiveness, she couldn’t tell which.

Roberts makes an interesting decision regarding POV in that, while we are pursing the Doctor/Rose/ancient Earth plot thread, Das’ and Jack’s stories are played out in journal form. Das describes his love for eating all things fatty (one of the few things I remember about Physical Anthropology was human inborn desire for fats, salts, and sugars, which unfortunately has dogged us to this day—erm, it must be the same for Neanderthals) and Jack expresses disbelief that Das is able to find a “mate” (apparently they can have children?!?). I thought that Das’ inability to understand the concept of lying was going to lead somewhere, but all it creates are some mildly funny incidents, told to us in summary. What Roberts does do surprisingly well is create some scenes of genuine peril that were hard to put down—Rose and the Doctor about to be attacked by monsters on the plain of some prehistoric Earth.

Unfortunately, it’s the monsters where Roberts lets us down. I found this same disappointment in “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” to be honest. Roberts’ villain is a calm, cool, bland super-genius woman, boring by nature but therefore dramatically lacking as well. While the presence of frustratedly passionate Quilley the Refuser and references to “Kinda” and L. Frank Baum make up for the general vanilla flavor of the dastardly plot once it’s revealed, I found the end rather anticlimactic. The monsters, the Hy-Bractors, were appropriately violent, but I really couldn’t see them at all in my mind’s eye—always a bad sign.

Overall, though, this was just so—much—fun.

8 comments:

bookdelver said...

Ah. I really liked this one and the scenes with Jack and Das are truly enjoyable.

The only problem I had with the whole book was the hitting over the head with the anti-drug message. It was blaring throughout and after a while really began to drag at the, otherwise, good story. As you point out, the constant use of pills to suppress "wrong feelings" makes the characters dull and uninteresting. Also, the Big Bad in the book obviously didn't think her plan through very well when going back to change the course of history, now did she? If she had succeeded, she probably wouldn't have existed in the first place! Silly person. (At least, that was the thought I had at the time I read the book.)

G. Roberts is, to date, one of the few NSAs I've actually managed to get through. I'm currently stuck in the middle of Paul Magrs' "Sick Building". It lacks the shear genius and enjoyability of his previous works (Mad Dogs and Englishmen kept me laughing throughout). I'm finding the characters to be flat and uninteresting and both Martha and the Doctor seem ineffectual. I keep finding more interesting things to read.

Le Mc said...

Heya! Somehow I didn't get hit over the head with the drug message although of course now you point it out I get it. Obviously while I was busy being amused you were thinking logically about plot holes! Well-done. Gareth Roberts can be erratic, in my opinion--I loved "Shakespeare Code" and one of his comics from Doctor Who Magazine, "TUATW" was a weaker entry, but I liked his Sarah Jane stuff (speaking of which, new series starts TODAY).

If you're looking for good Martha/Ten, I recommend "Sting of the Zygons" and "The Pirate Loop." Paul Magrs I also find erratic. I will see what books they have at the library tomorrow. I'm nearly through all the Ninth Doctor books.

bookdelver said...

'Sting of the Zygons' is a great run around story. Clever and just enjoyable. I haven't read 'The Pirate Loop', but will put into the TBR pile. I have read J. Richards' 'The Resurrection Casket' and enjoyed it a great deal. I liked the idea of steam powered rocket ships (though I really had to suspend my disbelief-though a friend of mine seemed to think it was somewhat feasible) and steam driven robots (which is a concept which has been around since the early, early days of science fiction).

Le Mc said...

I was quite disappointed with "Resurrection Casket," actually. I felt Ten just wasn't captured that well and if you're going to have pirates, you might as well have PIRATES! The steam-powered space ships were interesting but not that great in my opinion. I preferred Richards' other books for the range.

bookdelver said...

Ah, but those dastardly thieves (the robots) and the really bad guy (can't remember names any more) were all pirates! Even the kid in the story started out as a pirate and got a second chance at life. The big reveal about just what the casket did was the cool thing about the story, other than the ships (guess I have a thing for oddball tech and steampunk).

I wasn't really paying attention to how 10 was portrayed, but what the story was about. If the book is good enough, the Doctor can be quite generic for all I care. This may be because Tennant's Doctor tends to drive me to distraction. I don't enjoy being around jittery/hyper people, they drive me nutz. :o\ He really needs the TL equivalent of Ritalin. (At least this last series, he seemed to calm down some.)

I'll keep plugging away at the books. Maybe I'll find a new one to actually enjoy ... Oh yeah, did you know Lance Parkin's The Eyeless (http://theeyeless.blogspot.com/) will be out on Boxing Day? Now that is one I will pay $$shipping for from Amazon.co.uk!!

Le Mc said...

They were pirates, but they weren't 17th century Earth pirates, which is my true love. Anyway, I have heard of The Eyeless and will wait on buying it because Swansea Library has a copy on order! Muhahahaha!

I know you're not really a Ten fan. I did like Silver Sally's double-cross in "Resurrection Casket," but overall it just wasn't my favorite Justin Richards effort--by a long shot.

bookdelver said...

Romantic! ;0)

Personally, if I had to live with pirates, it would have to be Sparrow, et al. in the 1720s, but I'd want them to actually take baths, go to the dentist, improve their sanitary habits ... Uhm, any way, they were a nasty lot and their modern day counterparts are even more dangerous.

Did you know "Sing a Song of Sixpence" was originally a code for Blackbeard's crew? Snopes.com has a break down of what the song actually means. Interesting what we teach our kids on the sly!

Le Mc said...

My theory is that everyone was so dirty in those days you'd have to get really used to the stench quickly or perish. AT LEAST pirates had the sea nearby to go swimming. I think they had more problems finding adequate food. I was reading in a biography of Madame Tussaud that in the 1770s, those who could afford to went to the hairdresser every day, but even they only changed their clothes once a month. Good God!

I didn't know that about Sing of Song of Sixpence! Clever! You know many of those pirates were originally Welshmen, eh? ;-)