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Vampire Science

Doctor Who: The BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures #2
Nick Mellish

If you read the EDAs in the order they were published, then ‘Vampire Science’ comes as a bit of a shock. Following the TARGET-esque prose of ‘The Eight Doctors’, ‘Vampire Science’ is a lot denser, a lot more complicated, and above all a lot more adult in both its style and content. From the introduction that throws you straight into the deep end (as a reader, you find yourself as bewildered as the characters around the Doctor and Sam) to the very last page, you are left guessing, and thankfully the teasing pays off. It catches you and draws you in, and thankfully so as ‘Vampire Science’ is a great book in terms of enjoyment and character setting.

Whilst ‘The Eight Doctors’ was the book to introduce Samantha Jones, it is this one which truly defines her character. However, it is a shame to discover that she is not as interesting as first glances suggested. Part of the problem with her is that she has no real redeeming features- she tries to be different, but is aware that she is not; she tries to be strong but falls into the old companion-clichés of falling foul to the bad guys; she tries to be adult and mature, but acts the polar opposite when with the Doctor. In short, she is just a bit too much on a non-event to get excited about.

Plot-wise, ‘Vampire Science’ is a bit more complex than ‘The Eight Doctors’; that’s not to say that it is any harder to follow- in fact, given the continuity-based plot of ‘The Eight Doctors’, this is easier to follow if you are not aware of several of the television stories. After the initial confusion in the beginning, the plot assumes a nice pace, not rushing but not dragging either. Any of the more complicated elements are explained neatly and are not rushed.

However, the style of prose and some of the more horrific incidents (Sam nearly dying at the hands of the vampires, for instance) make sure that it is firmly rooted in a more adult territory than that which ‘The Eight Doctors’ was embedded.

The supporting characters are nicely drawn out; from Kramer to Carolyn, each one is fully fleshed out. For what it’s worth, I found that the characters of Harris and Shackle. Both have an underlying sense of loneliness about them, which leads to some lovely stand offs between the Doctor and Harris and some utterly superb character development for Shackle, which it must be said leaves more than a feeling of utter despair in the mouth.

There are some nice links to the television series throughout the book; most obvious of all is the appearance of UNIT, but there is also a hypercube: it is used to contact the Doctor, and is reminiscent of the little box used to send a plea to the Time Lords in ‘The War Games’.

I must say that I’m finding it hard to think of any negative points concerning ‘Vampire Science’; Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman’s style of writing is very easy to read, and they have served up a memorable array of characters that enrich a story already brimming full of good ideas. Only Sam seems to suffer in terms of characterisation, coming across as two-dimensional, but this is more because of the brilliant writing elsewhere: one character lacking out of a dozen or so is good odds, and more than forgivable.

‘Vampire Science’, in short, is a very well written and enjoyable book; Blum and Orman have obviously put a lot of thought into the novel, and thankfully it shows. An enjoyable read, and which I highly recommend.

Daniel Hirsch

I loved "Vampire Science" ... after the horrible disappointment of "The Eight Doctors" it's nice to see both the McGann portrayal of the Doctor so spot-on to what we'd been led to believe, and a reintroduction to Samantha, the companion glossed over during Terrance Dicks' empty space on my shelf (obviously I didn't like it, did I?)

With the return to BBC Books, the Doctor Who series seems to be well on its way to returning to the television series we knew and loved. I really enjoyed the New Adventures from Virgin, but I couldn't help but feel that I was reading novels from another genre; they just didn't feel like Doctor Who books. Now, with the Beeb clearly in possession, it looks as though we're back in the Who mythos... starting with the return of UNIT, or at least a UNIT descended from where we saw it last. Adrienne Kramer is the Brigadier-General and obviously knows the Doctor (one wonders if she may have been introduced by Lethbridge-Stewart, given as though she seems to know him by repute as well as by person.)

The mythos of Who return to San Francisco, last seen as the battleground between the Doctor and the Master in the telefilm. This is more than just a coincidence; it's obvious that the book's main protagonist apart from the main characters, Carolyn, is Amazing Grace with a different name and a slightly different background. (It is nevertheless a credit to authors Jonathan Blum and the mighty Kate Orman that we get a character so obviously meant to be someone else, yet possessing enough intelligence, wit and charisma to become a completely new creation.) Those twits at the BBC made them change her, from what I read... but the plot doesn't suffer.

In simple terms, the Doctor and Sam arrive, get caught up in a plot that involves two warring factions of vampires, and have to deal with them. They were in the area twenty years before in a prologue of the novel, and thought they'd dealt with things then. Obviously, they were wrong.

Let me put to words my one major positive outlook on this story: this Doctor is the Doctor. He's not the argumentative instability of the Colin Baker era, or the jumble that was the McCoy portrayal (and the subsequent characterization we got in the New Adventures). The McGann characterization in "Vampire Science" is the tried-and-trusted Doctor we know and love, the same man in a different body who condemned Tryst's drug sales in "Nightmare of Eden" and condemned the Brigadier's genocide in "Doctor Who and the Silurians". His morality has returned in full force. I really like this guy, because he reminds me of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker... the two men who brought to the Doctor a moral sense of right and wrong that was unquestionable: you knew they would do the right thing, no matter the cost.

I read somewhere that Samantha Jones was to be based upon Lisa Simpson, complete with the undying sense of justice and liberality, and I'm not disappointed. There is a great deal of potential for her to be developed into a character not unlike some of the most popular companions, such as Sarah Jane, Jo Grant or, if you subscribe to the notion that the New Adventures are part of the mythos, Bernice Summerfield.

Of course, this book does contradict some of the earlier notions about the Vampires, but it doesn't matter. It's far too enjoyable to let continuity dictate story direction. "Vampire Science" is the first great BBC Doctor Who novel... let's just hope they stay this good.

Simon Catlow

After the Eighth Doctor Adventures began in disastrous style with Terrance Dicks, The Eight Doctors, some vestige of sanity is restored with Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman's Vampire Science, which does what The Eight Doctors should have done, but succeeds in being an enjoyable novel in itself.

Vampire Science sees the return of veteran New Adventures writer Kate Orman to the new range, this time co-writing with her husband Jonathan Blum. Blum's presence adds a lot to the mixture of their styles, with the intensity of Orman's earlier work toned down a little, whilst retaining the fantastic ability to tell an interesting story well which she's shown in her previous novels. The result is impressive.

Blum and Orman perform a few little neat tricks with the novel as a whole to portray the Doctor and Sam in a better light than they might have done had this novel followed on immediately from their last adventure. This includes setting this story a number of years later than The Eight Doctors so that the Doctor is a more stable character and has become comfortable with himself and who he is, but they've also come up with a convincing explanation for keeping Sam the same age in that the Doctor left her for an hour at a Greenpeace Rally, whilst he went off travelling by himself for three years. But by this time it's obvious that the Doctor and Sam have been travelling for a while and by writing this into the novel it means that the annoying scenes where the Doctor and Sam come to trust each other are bypassed as it's a given. The structure of the novel also helps this too. The first chapter is set twenty years before the rest of the novel, and it gives a chance to see the Doctor and Sam in action and see the rapport that they've built up since they began travelling together.

The way that Blum and Orman characterise the Doctor here is good. They capture the essence of Paul McGann's onscreen character perfectly with the Doctor portrayed here very much in keeping with the imagery of how he played the role, but where they excel is that they build upon it. With just the sixty minutes of screen time that McGann had in the TVM to go on, and with no real characterisation from the previous novel, Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman are essentially recreating the Doctor here and introducing him afresh. Whilst this is in itself an enormous task, Blum and Orman go about it with remarkable ease, and although the Doctor's characterisation isn't one hundred percent successful (as occasionally they make it a little too extreme) it works well in the context of the novel.

Jon Blum and Kate Orman's handling of the companion Sam, in the three novels they wrote that featured her, would be throughout her time in the TARDIS be the best that there was, with the other authors seeming to be unable to break away from the generic characterisation that dogs her so much. Here, they expand considerably on the weak introduction that Sam was given in The Eight Doctors, managing to flesh her out into a much more believable person, even despite the inherent weaknesses of her character. The early scenes in particular show a Sam Jones that is not only interesting, but borders on the likeable, rather than irritating as most of the novels characterised her as.

The sequence set in 1976 which kicks off the novel, is the part where one of the main characters of the novel Carolyn McConnell is introduced. A quick look on the author's website, and the original synopsis for Vampire Science reveals that Carolyn was not originally supposed to feature in this novel, with her role intended for Grace Holloway from the TVM, but when problems with the rights situation prevented this, Carolyn was brought in and the whole of the novel altered to accommodate this. The change actually works for the best, with Carolyn herself proving to be an excellent character and the way she interacts with the Doctor and Sam proving to be one of the highlights of the novel.

The story itself deals with a group of Vampires in San Francisco, and Blum and Orman evoke the setting well. The vampires are well handled, and rather like the way that Paul Cornell gave them a more modern interpretation in his Missing Adventure Goth Opera, the authors do something similar here with their characterisation and by showing the conflict between the younger members of the vampire coven and the elder vampires. The two most striking vampire characters are Joanna Harris, the overall leader of the group who develops a strange relationship with the Doctor over the course of the novel, and Slake who is the most restless of the younger ones who is opposed to following the ancient ways.

Vampire Science is a frequently enjoyable novel, with an interesting storyline at it's heart. It's well written, showing a lot of the signs that made Kate Orman's New Adventures as highly regarded as they are. Co-writing with Jonathan Blum brings something different to her novels, but it works, and they have gone on to write better books together since, Vampire Science though remains one of the best of the early EDA's.