Friday, October 17, 2008

rose has a thing for fit natives

Colin Brake has written many things, including a Second Doctor novel (with a Seventh Doctor cameo) called The Colony of Lies, which I read some time ago. I remember it was pleasant enough, and it’s difficult to write Troughton well, but I found it rather average as far as story went (it was set in a Wild West-type town on another planet, with dog-headed natives, and IMHO it didn’t really do the Wild West thing very well). I quite liked The Price of Paradise, his Ten/Rose novel, though upon reflection it has a very traditional Doctor Who structure and style. Not that this is a bad thing, just . . . average.

It occurred to me about halfway through the book that I’ve never actually read legitimate writing for Ten and Rose. (I didn’t actually read Curse of the Drowned or The Stone Rose; lovely Mr McDonald read them to me.) Since, as you know, season 2 leaves me a bit flat, I was curious to see how much I enjoyed the pairing in prose. I thought Brake pulled it off well, though perhaps because he used that tried-and-true method of separating Doctor and companion for most of the story! Brake wasn’t about to get all sappy about the Doctor and Rose (Jac Rayner isn’t so squeamish and I love her for it) so maybe the book benefited from the more straightforward approach. Having read it almost directly after Only Human, it struck me that all the writers seem to agree: Rose has a soft spot for fit natives when she lands on their primitive planets. At least they’re consistent. As in Wooden Heart, actually, I am reminded of The Village as far as the “monsters” are concerned.

Did Colin Brake know the Vast Toffee was going to name the ship the S.S. Pompadour? Because his ship name is almost as absurd: S.S. Humphrey Bogart. That’s okay—she’s sort of channelling Firefly, being a bucket of bolts rather than a sleek ship. The story concerns Laylora, the fabled “paradise planet,” and a human crew’s excursion there, which puts the planet’s eco-system in serious disarray (couldn’t be more topical, I suppose). Of course the Doctor and Rose are involved, having to avoid the seriously dangerous Witiku monsters and keep the Laylorans and the crew safe. Rose actually does a lot in this one, using her gymnastic skills, making a lucky guess in terms of weaponry against the Witiku, and there are a few sections where I think Brake does quite well in getting to the essence of Ten—specifically when he rants against a “dirty” generator that the intractable Professor (à la “42”) refuses to turn off. Rose meets Rez, an adopted human, and enjoys his company, but not to the point of Tillun in Only Human.

Inevitably, whenever I think I have something figured out, I don’t. Not even close. When grim-faced Professor Petra Shulough expressed an inkling of understanding for Rez, I took the “Silence in the Library” route. I was wrong, but in that case, why was she drawn in such an inhospitable style? One of her crewmen says in eight months, he never saw her smile. That seems like a remarkable hyperbole. Okay, she’s an orphan, but is that really justification for her frosty attitude? I wasn’t entirely convinced. Even the Doctor compares her to a Cyberwoman! (Though I suppose this may be Brake’s way of keeping us on our toes, never sure whether Petra has another, sinister agenda or not. For some reason in my mind’s eye I kept seeing the older archaeologist from “Stones of Blood.”) Fortunately, after a bit of compassion (in the form of saving her life) from Rose, Petra loosens up a bit.

Brake has a gift for cute little scenes or details; Rose goes through the Doctor’s coat pockets in order to find a weapon (and feels bad about it—I’m sure it would be the first thing I would do—especially if he was wearing the coat, heh). (Speaking of which, I’m sure Brake didn’t intend for the following exchange to have a subtext, but then again, maybe he did. ‘It’s not actually a cell, you see . . .’ Hespell started to explain. ‘It’s my cabin.’ ‘I’m being held prisoner in someone’s bedroom?’) Is there even a sly Candide reference when the sparkly trisilicate is found in the Laylorans’ fields, “ever so common”? When Rez and Rose meet, she offers him her hand. She tells him to shake, so he shakes—like a dog. If that’s not a funny enough image, it’s played up again later in this sweet and hilarious exchange: Rez looked a little hesitant. ‘Does he shake?’
She and Rez exchanged a knowing look and then both of them burst into hysterics.
‘I’ll take that as a no, shall I?’ The Doctor sounded a little hurt.
Rose managed to stop herself laughing and apologized. ‘Private joke,’ she explained.
If anything, this only made him look more upset.
(This is the closest we get in the book to the Doctor and Rose as a couple.)

There’s a death at the end that, in my opinion, is included only because no one has died and this is Doctor Who so someone must die. While I found it entertaining and a quick read, it never seemed to kick up into its highest gear; even when I was only a few pages from the end and knew I was reading the denouement, I kept expecting the big finale on some level. So definitely a page-turner, I think I liked it more than Colony of Lies, and better than I expected for Rose/Ten.

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