I’ve just read the tongue-in-cheek “production report” on Father Time on the BBC’s website, and it’s confirmed a suspicion I’ve had about Lance Parkin since reading his brilliant Virgin NA The Dying Days. The man can’t help casting his novels. While Parkin’s ‘choice’ of Minnie Driver as Father Time’s hapless ‘love interest’ might seem to be aiming a bit high, I also think Parkin’s a real Ian McDiarmid fan. The conniving, Palpatine-esque Lord Greyhaven in Dying Days is surely a McDiarmid role. Ditto Savar in The Infinity Doctors. Baskerville, the chief villain in the early-21st century Bond knockoff that is Trading Futures is…yet another McDiarmid part, and a real Enemy of the World if ever there was one. Unlike most Bond villains, however, Baskerville doesn’t mean to start a world war, nick oil tankers, flood Silicon Valley or populate outer space. He’s just out to own all the money in the world, that’s all. Like Trading Futures itself, this idea is both somewhat corny and hugely entertaining.
Trading Futures kept me enthralled for the entire duration of a four-hour plane flight recently. I didn’t put it down. OK, so the food was crap and the inflight audio-visual entertainment consisted of some yodelling bampot in a tea cosy performing tai chi exercises very quickly (I’m told this spectacle was called a ‘Jamiroquai concert’), but Trading Futures kept me very content throughout the whole ordeal.
In short, the plot’s pretty straightforward in a convoluted kind of way—man claiming to be from the future (Baskerville) has a ‘time machine’ to sell, and James Bond-clone Josiah Cosgrove, a big, bald, elderly Scottish superspy (or should that be shoopershpy?) is on the case, hampered by the Doctor and co., and also by a race of alien rhinos from a city-sized spaceship in parking orbit. (Parked in the Cybermen’s spot, perhaps). Throw in a Michelle Yeo-like karate-kicking agent, a stealth Concorde, a couple of Sabbath employees in jumpsuits and there you have it. All that’s missing is a suitably safari-suited Sabbath hiding in a secret volcano lair and stroking a fluffy white cat (or maybe that scene was blue-pencilled at the editing stage).
The book’s even structured in the elderly Bond manner—there’s a “pre-credits” sequence in which the Doctor blows up a futuristic hydrofoil using a rubber ball and a glass of water to great effect, and a “final confrontation” scene in which one of the villains returns after defeat, only to be bumped off in spectacular fashion. The globetrotting is of Moonraker proportions (Greece, the USA, Russia, space), and even the book’s cover has a Maurice Binder (i.e. naked dancing girls) feel to it. If this sort of thing was done all the time, it would soon pall. As it is, Trading Futures is an unrepeatable one-off, and one I’m glad I bought.
Trading Futures is a cinematic book, in the best sense of the term—strongly visual, fast-moving, fast-paced, tightly plotted, and populated with engaging and immediately recognisable character types. Profound and head-shattering it’s not, but it never meant to be so. This is a bloody good, entertaining read. Full stop.
Simply put, a great novel. Lance Parkin mixes the best parts of Dr Who with the best parts of James Bond and the result is amazing. Filled with wit, action, comedy and thrills, "Trading Futures" is my first choice for a novel that should be filmed to start a new series. If only they were looking for one.
No spoilers follow. Read and enjoy!
Parkin's view of future Earth, circa 2020, is filled with innovations woven seamlessly together and populated with well-drawn characters, including the first realistic and valuable use of the President of the United States as a major character in a Dr Who novel. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji become divided among three - no, four - no, five factions in an arms race that might decide the fate of the Earth. Repeatedly, the Doctor foils his adversaries' plans with style and panache.
I've always felt Parkin's Doctor handles such denouements with brilliant self-awareness. Saying to us, in effect, "yes my escapes are fantastic, let's make this next one doubly so." Starting with his use of a rubber ball in the opening scene, by late in the novel a recounted list of the Doctor's impossible feats makes me hunger for breakfast at Milliways.
It's also to Parkin's credit that we have a fairly large cast of amusing, fleshed out characters - and that each of the regulars gets something to do as well. The President, Baskerville, Cosgrove and Malady all stand out and make worthwhile adversaries and allies throughout the story. And it's good to see Anji digging into things for a change, rather than getting into trouble or just following directions.
It's hard to say much more without spoilers, and I hate to ruin any of the fun or surprises. There are dozens of well-written scenes in "Trading Futures" - Anji and Fitz in the restaurant - Fitz saving the day and nearly losing himself - the opening bit, just to name a few. I laughed out loud repeatedly, particularly in the first half. In short, "Trading Futures" is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing and entertaining novel, filled with twists and red herrings. If we can only have six EDAs a year, let's hope they're all as good.
Perhaps one of the most alarming spectres of the September 11 attacks on New York is the speed in which it has seeped through the cracks of culture. We're not even a year shy of the events and already there are books, commemorative singles, fly on the wall documentaries- even a Marvel comic dedicated to them. Now, sooner than I expected we have the first truly post September 11 Doctor Who novel in Lance Parkin's 'Trading Futures'.
The backdrop for Trading Futures has a realistic, contemporary bite. Like Andrew Cartmel's Warhead/lock/child trilogy we are taken to an unspecified time in the early 21st century (about 2018 by my reckoning)where the future is anything but bright. America, having won it's war on terrorism has now turned it's attentions to the quarrelsome EuroZone, a polyglot that presumably emerged from the European Union. A new Cold War of sorts has arisen between the two, and a Third World War looks to be a certainty. Set against this tense environment are unscrupulous arms dealers, sexy secret agents, traitorous military men and some belligerent alien Rhino's.
Unlike Cartmel's 'near future' tales, the theme for the tale is not corporate greed and the destruction of the natural world but global politics and the arms race. Also, though not to slight Cartmel's books which were excellently written, we have a story here that succeeds where they failed. Trading Futures captures that strangely elusive sense that it is Doctor Who and is an enjoyable read. It evokes that sentiment without resorting to cliche, tongue in cheek references or supporting characters from the TV series. So in that sense it becomes quite a progressive story too, which is a testament to Parkin's affinity with writing Who (five since 'Just War' and not one a dud!). He shows that he knows the programme and it's spin off fiction inside out but writes a novel that the uninitiated could read quite easily.
The story has a relevance to our times (like all good science fiction) and poses some interesting questions about the free market; how much does the flow of global capital control our lives? The story cannily suggests a new conspiracy theory that conspiracy theories are a conspiracy theory to cover the fact that there is no 'new world order', that no-one can control the world from a round table. This is fine, reflective thinking in the wake of the world changing events of last year.
The characterisation here is not as strong as it was in Father Time, but arguably that was a novel that demanded that the drama came from the characters. TF's futuristic and subtle Ian Fleming feel ( mind you that 'spy who loved me' pastiche on the cover's a dead giveaway!)means the characters often get too swamped by the tide of events (literally when a huge tsunami demolishes Athens). But I'm picking holes here; the book's about action not people, and in that sense it succeeds brilliantly. Besides, Fitz and Anji are as colourful and well written as ever, and there is a thoughtful and intriguing villain in Baskerville, an arms dealer with a time machine who claims to come from the 42nd century.
What's particularly good here is that Baskerville is more of an amoral villain rather than the usual snarling sadistic type. Like Sharaz Jek (who, while we're on the war against terrorism theme, I think is quite reminiscent of Osama bin Laden) Baskerville is primarily moved by a desire to supply to a demand. Anji's reactions to Baskerville as one ruthless marketeer to another are interesting to read; one gets the feeling that Anji has to assess her own ambitions before she can credibly denounce Baskerville for trying to capitalise on time travel. This is exemplified in a rather funny scene where she gets carried away explaining to the Doctor just how easy it would be to make money with a time machine. All this almost serves to make the revelations of Baskerville's true intentions to be almost disappointing, but logical nonetheless. The monsters of the piece stand up well too; a lot of Doctor Who novels have added tedious 'novelty monster of the week' types but the description of the Ohnir's scent based technology are quite entertaining, particularly when they have to deal with a chain smoking Fitz.
I suppose I'd better mention the Doctor whilst I'm reviewing a book in which he is the main character- but there, you see, lies the rub. It's not a fault unique to Trading Futures that the eighth Doctor doesn't really have a meaty enough role. I'm beginning to wonder if the removal of most of his memory isn't just becoming tiresome; he was a character stretched thin before he lost most of his mind but now he a seems a shadow of himself. Can we please have some resolution to this memory loss thing soon? The writer's guidelines state that we always see the story from the point of view of the companions, that the Doctor should remain mysterious and unimpenetrable, but the Doctor of the 8DA's is rarely either. In the words of Phil Mitchell-SORT IT AHHT!
Never mind that though, Trading Futures is a very fine novel, not quite as good as Father Time or Just War, but then those two are tough acts to follow. And at least there's more robots in this one than in Parkin's last!
The signs were not good. Merely the sight of the authors name on this book was enough to send a shiver of fear down this reviewers back. Let me be clear - I have never understood the accolades frequently hurled at Lance Parkin. The Infinity Doctors bored me, Father Time annoyed me, and the less said about Primevil the better. Before I finally gave up on Lance Parkin altogether as someone who simply holds a totally opposite view of Doctor Who to the series I enjoy, I decided to try one last book. And you know, I'm rather glad I did.
Things don't quite get off to a flying start, however. The initial scenes of the TARDIS crew had me scratching my head and wondering if I'd missed a book somewhere down the line. So the TARDIS interior is only marginally larger than the exterior now? Why is the Doctor gaily lecturing Anji on the customs of this near future Earth like a native if his memory only stretches back to The Burning and Anji has accompanied him ever since he regained the TARDIS? Why does Anji seem to think she's only been travelling with the Doctor for about 3 months, when the events of Adventuress of Henrietta Street alone took up almost a full year of her life?
Continuity conundrums aside there is also an initial feeling of disappointment in discovering that this is the second EDA in a row where the plot revolves around the Doctor investigating time travel abuse in the midst of warring nations. However, it soon becomes apparent that where Anachrophobia aimed for claustrophobic chills, Trading Futures goes all in for action packed thrills. I've never been a fan of action-based prose, as I find that endless descriptive passages of events that would last a matter of seconds on the big screen tends to slow down the pacing of a novel. Here however, brevity helps the book flow at a high pace, and it is only during the novels robot heavy climax that things get bogged down. Its also interesting to note just how up and at 'em Parkin's Eighth Doctor is, especially in light of recent events in the range. Gone is the wheezing and groaning frail old man of the last couple of novels - in his place we have a return to an almost superhuman Doctor of old, quite at home blowing up boats, being thrown out of twenty-third storey windows, or shooting bullets out of the air. There have been many fan theories on whether James Bond is really a Time Lord - as promised by the cover, this novel successfully casts the Eighth Doctor in the super spy mould.
Added to this mix we have the latest in a long line of anthropomorphised animal aliens in Who. Having most recently had space-hippos in Grimm Reality, and space-dogs in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, here it's the turn of the Onihr - space-rhinos no less, (am I able to register my copyright claim for a race of warlike alien space-ducks called the Quaxx yet?), who provide the comic relief.
It's by no means perfect - the Onihr are dismissed too easily at the climax; the Doctors actions when he finally gets his hands on the time machine everyone's been chasing is too similar to an identically ending Bond film; the motivations behind the main 'bad guy's actions are not explained clearly enough for my liking; I don't believe you can get a direct phone call to the President of the United States by name-dropping another secret agent; and I wasted ten minutes scratching my head over what I can only presume was a Captain Pugwash reference - but with the pace of the story so fast its easy to forgive the occasional narrative bump. Essentially Trading Futures is a fast paced action thriller - and it succeeds perfectly as pure entertainment. My only hope is that in finally producing something I enjoy, Lance Parkin hasn't managed to lose his regular adoring fan base - I await the reviews with interest.
Reviews for novels (online reviews especially) often end with a dramatic "Buy this!" or "Go out and read this now!". The reviewer is punctuating his review with an assertion that the book in question is an essential read (as it often is). Some people act on these commands (as I sometimes have), so they're not without their uses. But I'd be silly to tell people to "Buy Trading Futures now!", because everybody has already bought it. I'd be wasting my breath. It's a new Lance Parkin novel. Some people have probably had it on pre-order for three months. (I admit that when I saw copies of it in Forbidden Planet a few weeks ago I had to restrain my outward joy, else I look awfully daft). But just in case there is someone who hasn't heard of Lance Parkin, or who is completely new to Doctor Who, and who in addition just happens to be reading this review I'll say it anyway: buy this novel now, because it's really good.
That isn't quite fair - it's better than "really good". Frequently, in extended Parkinian riffs, it is inspired. Trading Futures is a virtuoso performance from a novelist who knows which dials to turn, which levers to pull, and which buttons to press. Moving through the ailments that often afflict Doctor Who novels it becomes clear that Trading Futures suffers from none of them: the secondary characters are at least as vividly drawn as the companions; the companions are kept busy, and in such a way that what they're up to doesn't feel less important than what the Doctor is up to; the Doctor is crisply in character (and his character grows, partly through the clever use of dialogue that we don't expect - "Moi?" for example); the plot doesn't sag, and never once feels as though its losing its way; the continuity, when there, is the right sort of continuity - enriching not detracting. In every way Trading Futures is the model for any new, thrilling adventure featuring the Eighth incarnation of the Doctor. It's a necessary change of pace for the EDAs.
Are there any problems? At first I wanted to know more about the future world Parkin creates with such slight, light strokes, and wondered if this was the novel's only flaw. But this isn't a novel exploring a future science fiction world, it's a thriller (in the best, classic sense of the word) set in the future. We're in the future "But," to quote the Doctor, "here they call it 'the present'". Trading Futures draws on common ideas in science fiction in the same way Bond movies would (or do) - smart missiles, lunar towers, stealth ships, and new geopolitical boundaries are name-checked and utilized in a fascinated poring (to steal from Anthony Burgess) on things. It is a world where material objects and ingenious tradecrafts are more vital to the pulse of the narrative than people, and where the "thick Scots accent" of Cosgrove tells us far more about him than any amount of complex psychology.
But, finally, Trading Futures isn't cold, characterless, or impersonal. As Parkin knows, what separates a good thriller from a bad thriller is its cast of slickly created, full-blooded good guys, bad guys, and attractive young ladies. No matter how good the idea, if the people are dead on the page, it won't work. Suffice to say, Trading Futures is a good thriller.
Wow, that was dull.
Around page 50, I thought Trading Futures was great. Around page 100, I started to flag. And by the time I reached page 200, I'd lost all interest and was counting the pages until it would be over. This book didn't work for me at all. Admittedly I didn't see the point of The Dying Days either, but at least with that we had the Brigadier, Benny and some Ice Warriors. This has... well, some politics. That's about it, really.
The characters are largely an excuse for annoying in-jokes. There's an alien menace with a name straight out of Pip & Jane Bakers' novelisation of Time and the Rani. Only these guys' status as dumb-ass comic relief stopped me from being seriously pissed off. There's a Certain Secret Agent. You can't take him seriously either. And there's a baddie who's so low-key that it was a shock for me to realise that he was supposed to be the main antagonist. Trading Futures is trying to be a Bond movie, but doesn't seem to have realised that a key to any good Bond movie is a larger-than-life, flamboyant villain. This guy isn't even interesting.
Oh, did I mention the in-jokes? You know, I'd hoped the books had grown out of all that nonsense. Sadly not. There's also a bit where the Doctor does something impossible, as in Father Time, though here it more nearly approaches bearability.
There is the politics, which is pretty much the one thing I liked about this book (apart from a couple of good jokes). Trading Futures is set in a near-future world in which capitalism, nation-states, technology and everything else have turned the established social order upside-down. Some of that was quite nifty. The world in which this takes place is intriguing, though I still haven't decided whether the contradictions concerning its dating are deliberate (as with Father Time) or goofs.
This book has too many factions running around, trying to shoot each other and doing little more. Some vanish from the plot with no warning half-way through. The result is that none of these people are threatening, intriguing, menacing or interesting. If this is a Bond movie, it's a really muddled one starring Timothy Dalton that falls apart in the first forty minutes and doesn't know what the hell it's doing after that. It doesn't even have any sexy women, since Anji in a swimsuit lacks the oomph that Mary Tamm or Lalla Ward would have if you search-and-replaced Trading Futures into a Tom Baker PDA. You know the reason why. And I say that as someone with a thing for... uh, let's not go there.
This is a sadly substandard book from Terrance Dicks, lacking the focus of Endgame or the fun factor of Players. What's that you say? It's by Lance Parkin? Naaaah.