Friday, October 30, 2009

The Krillitane Storm

The Krilllitane Storm by Christopher Cooper (spoilers)

I must say that, though the title didn’t grab me, the idea of the Doctor in 12th century Worcester did. I wasn’t disappointed; though the book started out in a formulaic manner, it eventually defied expectations and was entertaining and not your usual monster runaround. There’s a lovely mock-medieval woodcut of the Doctor with sonic screwdriver, which really sets the tone. :-D

Though I liked “School Reunion,” I thought the Krillitanes were the dullest part, notwithstanding Anthony Head’s oddly mesmerizing performance. The Doctor is companion-less, which was worked to varying degrees—I couldn’t help thinking of “The Deadly Assassin” at the beginning of the book, and the contrast—here the Doctor desperately needs someone to explain stuff to, as the tone is very much in that vein even if it’s a narrator (possibly in the Doctor’s head) giving the reader the low-down. For all that, he’s Tennant through and through, right down to getting kissed passionately by a woman pretending she’s his wife in order to save his life. (This section, whether it realized it or not, is the exact same situation Pierre Gringoire and Esmeralda find themselves in during The Hunchback of Notre Dame, right down to the Doctor escaping the noose. But I digress.) The woman, against type, doesn’t belong in the 12th century either. Her name is Emily, and though she’s very recalcitrant about her intentions initially, she isn’t stalking Krillitanes like the Doctor. The beginning of the book, with the Worcester townies stuck in their houses in fear reminded me of The Nightmare of Black Island and Wooden Heart, but it quickly changed tactics, to its benefit I think!

Another of Cooper’s invented characters is Captain Darke, also possibly straight from The Hunchback of Notre Dame but a good deal more intelligent than Phoebus. At first I found him a bit tedious but he grew on me. I liked how he chastised his men for believing the Doctor’s psychic paper when they couldn’t read! Darke is godless and disillusioned, a distinct possibility I suppose since he may be an ex-Crusader (like Bois-Guilbert from Ivanhoe!), but it seems convenient that the characters in the book accept that the Krillitanes aren’t the Devil. Cooper acknowledges that there isn’t much history in this book, and while that’s true it seems to work for the story—we know that Stephen and Matilda are fighting for the crown, and although medieval characters have dialects of a sort, it’s neither hugely pompous stage-writing nor way Cockney as is the more recent fad. As it is I prefer more of the meat of history as in Dale Smith’s The Many Hands, but it leaves room for huge incongruous set pieces like two Krillitanes fighting each other in the vaults of Worcester Cathedral (“Father’s Day”?).

The first U-turn in the book is that the Krillitanes aren’t the monsters. Oh, they’re as self-satisifed and phlegmatic as in “School Reunion,” and as savage and voracious, but they’re being used, “farmed,” in a highly unethical, seedy subplot, perpetrated by evil, sleazy conmen and scientists, so much like an updated “Nightmare of Eden.” The Krillitanes’ brood and family system is explored to impressive detail (whether this all came from Toby Whithouse or another source is hardly relevant). Oh, there were touches of other things ranging from Star Wars to The Monsters Inside to “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” but I don’t know that’s because my mind always makes connections that way or if the work itself was derivative. The book’s pace was good once it got going, and I did find it exciting, a page-turner.

The switches in perspective threw me off; many of these Doctor Who books do that without warning. It has always struck me as an amateur way of moving the story along, but perhaps that’s just sour grapes. Emily, even if she is named after the author’s daughter, isn’t as distinctive a one-off companion as June, and despite a strong beginning, I wish she’d had a bit more development. I also got a “Shakespeare Code” vibe from medieval Worcester (which isn’t too far off; didn’t they film there for that episode?). I can almost imagine Ten, well-written as he is, being replaced easily by Four—he’s that kind of Doctor and this is that kind of story.

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