Monday, October 6, 2008

wooden heart?

Who is Martin Day anyway? I had read nothing either complimentary or condemnatory about Wooden Heart, a novel for the Tenth Doctor and Martha (and I still don’t know what the title means). Even so, having had so much fun with the last Doctor Who books I’d been reading, I found this one a bit disappointing. Part of it is, in my opinion, he failed to really capture the persona of either the Doctor or Martha, as has been done so well before (Martha really well in The Pirate Loop, both of them in Sting of the Zygons). The sci fi story ideas are fine enough in themselves, quite imaginative in some ways, but as a Doctor Who novel specifically I’m not sure it all came together. None of the secondary characters ever quite captured my imagination, and with descriptions of adversaries as “dark angels,” I felt parts of it were a bit difficult to visualize.

The Doctor and Martha step off the TARDIS into a macabre living tomb (shades of Serenity)—that’s how Day plays this, very macabre. So what if the disappearing children are not killed but rather spirited away into the night—the “monsters” that inhabit the forest that the Doctor and Martha stumble into (while still on the ship) give off the creepiness vibe of The Village. As long as they are at the edge of vision, they remain horribly frightening. When Day describes them fully, however, the prose becomes unwieldy. We are told how terrified Martha is to get away, but I never feel like she is. When you figure out the distillation going on the monsters make sense, but somehow I think the Gothic fails to work with over-analysis. Was he going for Hinchcliffe? I’m not really sure what he was going for. Stuck in the middle of this is a chapter on murderer Ben Abbas, which I found really distracting, especially since it seems to be drawing parallels with Princess Diana.

However, there are some fun moments in this book. There’s something funny and shocking about the Doctor getting his leg stuck in some kind of metal trap. ‘Doesn’t half hurt,’ he added. ‘Do you precipitate this chaos, or are you merely drawn to it?’ ‘I do wonder sometimes,’ said the Doctor. Experiencing the whole lifetime of a village, where apparently generations have existed, winds its way, in my mind at least, to that Star Trek:TNG episode. Martha is courageous, compassionate, all the qualities we’ve come to associate with her—When you’re presented with suffering, she thought to herself, you react to it on a human level—with sympathy. You’d be something less than human if you didn’t—and yet I hardly feel I know her. She’s gone to Ibiza and lost her passport in a bar, apparently, and doesn’t feel up to performing pathologies. But where’s Martha? I feel him grasping for the effortless banter between the Doctor and Martha at their best, like when Martha tries to impress him by knowing the myths behind Castor and Pollux, and when the Doctor retorts with gobbledygook from the realms of the absurd. I do wonder if Martin Day feels a bit ripped off by “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead.” That plot and his do share certain similarities, but then I suppose it’s a science fiction archetype—after all, just watching “Carnival of Monsters,” it shares certain things in common with that story too.

I will grant you, about halfway through I was very excited to keep reading as I really wanted to know what the connection between the forest and the ship was. In the book’s defense, as I say, parts of the plot are quite interesting and creative, but I can’t say very much without spoiling the entire thing for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

OK. We can discuss!

I picked this book up after reading your review. I started reading it and before I knew what was going on, I was forty pages into it. Then seventy, then 100 .... It's a reasonably fast read, well written, if a little thin on plot. But I don't expect deep thought in a Doctor Who book really. I do, however, expect to be entertained and distracted from the ordinary and Martin Day really managed to do that for me.

While it could have done with more length to explore a number of ideas, like the (shrinking) parameters (something which Saul is really aware of in an off hand way) of the world the villagers lived in, who the Dalzoi was, and most especially the poor alien who'd been ensnared by the human scientists, I think Day did a reasonable job.

I think where the book is weakest (again, I think it's the fault of lack of space) is the plotting of the alien in the mesh. What hubris on the part of humans! And the scene between Jens and his child was a little thin too come to think of it. I don't even remember what happened during that bit. I'll go look it up again.

I had no problem understanding the secondary characters of the book. In some ways, Saul and Jude are more interesting characters than Martha. She's surprisingly whiny in some ways and brave in others. She's full of contradictions and is somewhat useless in certain situations you'd expect her to excel at. Weird. Petr and Katherine do fall a little flat, and really they aren't as important to the plot as Saul and Jude are in the end.

An interesting thing, though I don't know if you noticed it, is that no one had more than one kid each. Was this part of the power problem in the "simulation"?

The avenging angel could have used a bit more space to develop--like between the arrival of the prisoner Ben Abbas on the prison ship and the Doctor's dialogue with the alien. A little more time explaining the evolution of the creature would have made it more terrifying. The idea of creating such a creature out of all the hate, sadistic tendencies, etc. isn't a bad one. It just needed more explication.

The same goes for the monsters in the forest. I get that they were patrolling the perimeters of the little world, but they seemed rather arbitrary. Or is that just me? 'Course, after watching the The Matrix I expect the agents to be more subtle ... Hmm. Just me then. :0]

The children in the fog seemed to be based on the basic plot of The Fog [2005] (no joke) -- in which a group of lepers seeking refuge in a seaside town are "betrayed by the town's founding fathers and burned" ... One hundred years later "the ghosts of the long dead mariners have returned ... to exact revenge." (IMDB Plot Summary-accessed Oct. 12, 2008.) I've never seen this movie, but was really aware of the idea behind Day's choice of imagery.

However, I think Day's characterization of the Doctor (which helped me ;0] ) was more like 8 than 10 and this may be because his last book is The Sleep of Reason one of 8's last stories. As I remember, I rather liked that book too!

I think the title of the book refers to the forest--the heart of any world and the alien's ability to keep it open and spacious. As long as it had the power and strength to do so, the forest (the world) was wide open, spacious, full of possibilities. But when there was little for the alien to draw on, it began shrinking the "heart" down, removing the good things from the world and loosing it's own ability to feeling anything but coldness and despair. The avenging angel was a reminder of just how poorly it had been treated by the scientist of the prison ship. Once it was removed, the alien could begin to grow again. Rather like a certain Dr. Seuss character ... (Da hoo dori ... )
If that made sense, then I need to take more caffeine. :0)

I wouldn't be surprised if Day had a totally different title in mind when he submitted the book and Wooden Heart is what he got.

You asked who Martin Day is--he wrote: Bunker Soldiers (1st); The Devil Goblins of Neptune (3rd); The Hollow Men (7th) [I liked this one too as I remember]; The Menagerie (MA 2nd); No Man's Land (Audio); The Sleep of Reason (8th) and co-wrote one of the best books about the show: The Discontinuity Guide. This last book has been reprinted in the past 4-5 years. If you can find a copy, grab it!

Le Mc said...

Thanks for your detailed review! I think in reviews I tend to be a bit more harsh than I would in person, which is strange since I am more or less nice (right??) and like encouraging good writing rather than hacking people to bits with criticism. I guess it's because I forget that sometimes the authors do come across the reviews, and their feelings (like any writer's) could be hurt. So I've got to remember to act more charitably!

In any case, I think you squared away at the book's strengths and weaknesses. Martha was a bit uneven as you suggest, and I admit I was beginning to become fond of Saul, despite myself. I forgot to mention in the review that someone mentioned the people in the forest started out as archetypes. Is that to excuse character types or to poke a joke at that perception?

You're right, too, about the angel. With a little more explanation so I could understand/visualize it, I would have responded more positively to it. I see now your point--the Doc was more like 8, ergo you were happy! :-D I knew Martin Day just couldn't have materialized out of the ether, but I hadn't read any of his stuff before. (I have heard of "Devil Goblins of Neptune").

If I see that other book of his that's been reprinted I'll pick it up.

I'm reading "The Price of Paradise" now. Have you read that one?