Sunday, December 7, 2008

snowglobe 7

I just read that Mike Tucker was an effects supervisor on the classic series as well as the first two seasons of the new series. This certainly shows in his work, which is highly visual and appeals impressively to the senses. I can see, too, the sincere love he has for the program and its conventions and tenets. I am certain that Snowglobe 7 came into being on the basis of its conceit, and the conceit is genuinely startling and terrific. The year is 2099, and due to global warming, the polar ice caps have been melting. To preserve them, the world governments have erected seven giant domes in different parts of the world with the arctic environments encased inside. To fund them, some of the domes have been turned into winter sport facilities for the rich and famous. Unfortunately, there seems to be something waking in the depths of the permafrost to attack . . .

The alien-menace-in-the-ice is a familiar sci fi formula (two adventures that come immediately to mind are the X-Files episode “Ice” and “Seeds of Doom”) but there’s nothing wrong with the way Tucker reworks it. Parts of this are as graphic and horrifying as the worst The Many Hands offered; in tone it reminds me in some ways of “Voyage of the Damned.” There is the nasty entrepreneur and his mercenary sidekick, whose escapades we follow through half the book. The hapless doctors, nurses, technicians, bureaucrats, and scientists, plus a race of sanctuary-seeking aliens called the Flisk. It has all the elements of a Doctor Who TV story—I expect had I seen it on TV I would think nothing of it. But what is it about print that makes me search for a Doctor Who story that has it all?

While Martha’s medical training comes in handy when she’s trapped in Snowglobe 7’s infirmary, I feel sometimes she’s more in ambiguous companion role, so that just about any Doctor/companion combination could be written into the story. Tucker is trying to hint at Martha’s pining over the Doctor, but it just feels slightly off to me: ‘A holiday romance. Right. Doctor, that’s just what I was hoping.’ I guess I’m just picky about Martha, even more so than Rose; only a few authors in the books have really captured her to my satisfaction. Tucker’s monsters, however, certainly have the ring of a man familiar with effects to them: It was as if someone had thrown together a strange amalgamation of monkey, spider, and bat. (They also use echolocation.)

And how do I feel about how Tucker writes Ten? Well, I love what he’s done with the robots in this story—they have a distinctive way of speaking (as printed on the page as well as syntactically), and I can see their chunky silhouettes in my minds’ eye, a hint of Pete’s ‘Verse Cybermen with a dash of the robot graveyard in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The way Ten interacts with them seems wholesomely the Doctor, and very Ten: ‘Why shouldn’t it be frightened?’ snapped the Doctor. ‘Every generation of artificial intelligence is designed to better mimic its human counterpart. Poor old Twelve here is in the robotic equivalent of shock.’ There are vibes of “42” and “Human Nature” (I was almost going to write that it reminded me of the scene from “Making It Stranger,” but that would hardly be fair!), and there’s certainly a bittersweet ending. You can feel the Doctor’s mantle becoming hard to bear—all the things Davros accused him of, murder, genocide, dumping responsibility onto others . . . Ten feels himself guilty of it in Snowglobe 7. The Doctor nodded sadly. ‘The last of their kind.’ ‘And you wanted to save them.’ ‘I thought I could.’

Snowglobe 7 shares with The Last Dodo a fairly obvious message about environmentalism and conservation (if you reflect that these books are primarily for young adults, it makes sense). However, its tone is darker. ‘The humans that you are so concerned about, the thousands out there, simply don’t care about this planet any more. They don’t deserve to survive! They pretend to care, but when it comes down to it they cannot even be bothered to help save themselves.’ Frankly, by setting this in 2099, I think Tucker is being optimistic; the situation will probably happen sooner than that, and I hope I am not around when it happens.

Snowglobe 7 is flashy and fun, though it felt pretty generic rather than tailored to Ten/Martha. No harm in that, just a personal preference thing.

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