Over the last fortnight, I have mostly been reading books. Specifically, The Monsters Inside, The Clockwise Man and Winner Takes All. I'll get my mantra out of the way to start with:
"I am not the target audience, I am not the target audience, I am not the target audience, I am not the target audience..."
OK. That said, they weren't half bad. Particularly as a cure for withdrawal symptoms...
All three authors captured the voices of Christopher Eccleston's Doctor and Billie Piper's Rose extremely well, although each author seemed to focus on a slightly different aspect of the characters.
I read the books in the order listed above. The first was my holiday reading on a 40-foot yacht, and a good choice it was, too. Not too demanding, but dramatic and intriguing at the same time.
The Monsters Inside makes the risky move of sending The Doctor and Rose to different planets after the first few pages, and not reuniting them until the end of the book. Rose is sent to a juvenile detention centre, while The Doctor finds himself in a specialist prison unit, expected to help his captors to develop some rather nasty technology. The Raxacoricofallapatorians put in a welcome appearance, with two families - the Slitheen and the Blathereen - working against each other throughout the story.
The settings are interesting, but I found that I could never quite grasp exactly what the author was trying to describe. The two prisons are obviously different, but I found it hard to form an image of The Doctor's location in my mind. I found the other characters slightly confusing. Rose had too many 'good cop, bad cop' jailers and nasty girl-bullies to keep adequate track of while reading, and The Doctor's fellow prisoners were never given the opportunity to differentiate themselves from each other. Guessing which of the jailers had been replaced by Raxacoricofallapatorians in skin suits kept me busy for most of the book, as I am sure the author intended. The dénouement was confusing, mainly because I found it difficult to imagine the physical settings described in the book. This became more and more important towards the end, and I had to concentrate hard to work out which buildings contained which characters during the final fight.
It should probably be pointed out that my reading was frequently interrupted by tacking, gybing, pulling on ropes, bouncing through wake, choosing a perfect beach for the lunch-stop and other boat-related excitements. This probably didn't help my efforts to keep track of the story.
There were a couple of points in the book where I wondered who the target audience really is. A throwaway line near the beginning about Rose being stripped and handed a prison uniform when she is admitted to juvenile detention made me stop and check that I hadn't misread the passage (no, I hadn't). The Doctor and his fellow prisoners being kept under control by 'globs' of putty-like stuff that float down from the ceiling and stick themselves all over misbehaving prisoners was ... odd. The 'Doctor and bondage' joke all over again. Excuse me while I step out for some fresh air.
In conclusion, a good choice of holiday reading. The Doctor gets to shed a tear over an abused (very alien) alien, The Doctor and Rose get to show off their ability to communicate in subtexts without the surrounding characters realising what they are doing, and the Raxacoricofallapatorians do their stuff adequately to keep the reader guessing for most of the book.
I read The Clockwise Man when I came home from sailing, in between feeding unbelievable mounds of dirty washing into the machine, and then finding somewhere to hang it all. Another good choice for filling in time.
The Doctor and Rose travel back to the 1920s, and visit London (again). Once you get over this initial disappointment, the characters and plot more than make up for the somewhat mundane location. The settings are easier to visualise, for a start. Nothing too alien here, and plenty of stiff-upper-lip former leaders of the British Empire huddled together in a London Club, taking a shine to Rose and playing chess with The Doctor.
The plot is a little muddled. The Doctor is hunted in a case of mistaken identity, but too little is made of the villain’s realisation that they have got the wrong man. The dénouement is less confusing than in The Monsters Inside , but working out who was upstairs, who was downstairs and where the Sonic Screwdriver was at any given time became a little taxing as the scene progressed. The loss of various important items of The Doctor's property throughout the book allowed the author to explore his character in interesting ways. If he can't rely on his technology or his leather jacket (eek!), who is he, and what does he do about it? His responses to each loss emphasise his alien-ness, as instead of shock or surprise, we see him state calmly and in a matter-of-fact way that such-and-such is missing, and move on to finding it before the reader has had a chance to take this in.
Cat lovers will find parts of the book traumatic and / or worrying, and cat-phobics will find plenty to back up their fears. There are some very violent moments in The Clockwise Man , but these are justified when the author reveals exactly what is at stake, and who the characters really are.
Justin Richards' Doctor comes across as distant, alien and beyond understanding. He rarely explains himself, often leaves the safe locations without telling anyone where he is going, and harbours suspicions about several of the characters without explaining them to Rose, or to the reader. His alien-ness is also hinted at with the suggestion that he doesn't need to sleep, and Christoper Eccleston's ability to switch instantly between inane grin, anger, grief, suspicion and light-hearted banter is reproduced faithfully here.
I enjoyed The Clockwise Man . I felt that it had more substance to it than The Monsters Inside , and the familiar settings allowed the author to concentrate on the characters and their motivations, rather than attempting - as Stephen Cole does with mixed success - to explain and present alien locations alongside a reasonably detailed storyline.
Having completed my washing, my search for an agent, and everything else I had to do this week, I moved on to Winner Takes All . I had read poor reviews of this book, and therefore did not expect to enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised!
It is certainly the easiest read of the three books. I read it in less than a day, and I am not a speed-reader. It is less elegantly written than the other two - the prose and descriptions are at times very clumsy - but the locations are clearly described and the action is easy to follow.
The plot involves a particularly sinister scratchcard promotion in which shoppers can win a games console or a holiday. The games console, with its alien shoot-em-up Doom or Quake-like game, turns out to be significantly more than a game-playing device, and the holidays are certainly not what they seem!
In the tradition of Orson Scott Card’s Ender's Game and Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind , the game turns out to be real. Real aliens are dying, and real people are being taken 'on holiday' to fight them. The people 'on holiday' are then used as puppets by their controllers on the games consoles to infiltrate an enemy stronghold and fight one lot of aliens on behalf of another.
Jacqueline Rayner uses this neat and manageable plot to explore the moral basis of The Doctor's actions. He is forced to do several things entirely against his will, and although he realises that he must do them for the greater good, he lets his anger show in private on several occasions, as a way of dealing with the situation. Rayner admits in her 'About the Author' section that she fell for Christopher Eccleston's Doctor 'immediately', and this is evident throughout the book. Once again, his sudden switching between emotions and expressions is used very effectively to map the levels of danger, the need for action and the utter moral degradation of the situations he encounters.
Micky and Jackie also feature in this story. Micky is a very important character - The Doctor is forced to admit that he has been indispensible, again. Jackie-haters may feel a certain sense of satisfation when she is beaten up and hospitalised by the neighbourhood bully, but this satisfaction can't last long. The injustice of the situation prevails, and Rose is inspired to put things right.
Once again, Rose gets to rescue The Doctor (he just wants to know what took her so long), and then play a leading, but disturbing, role in bringing about the end of the game.
Jacqueline Rayner's strength is her portrayal of Christopher Eccleston's Doctor, and the relationship between The Doctor and Rose. There are several tongue-in-cheek exchanges between the two characters, and these are a joy to read. The Doctor's solemn declaration that Scouts are only permitted one good turn every day, and that they are required to go home and kick the dog if they accidentally help two old ladies across the street, had me in stitches. These scenes also help to emphasise the horror and the anger with which The Doctor greets the final game, and his forced position as Rose's puppetmaster.
As described above, each author seems to emphasise a different aspect of The Doctor's personality.
In The Monsters Inside , Stephen Cole presentes us with a Doctor recognisable from his scenes with Jabe in The End of the World. Intelligent, playing along, but hiding some dark emotions and expressing sorrow and empathy for all life, not just humans.
In The Clockwise Man , Justin Richards chooses to emphasise the self-contained problem-solving Doctor. He disappears when he knows Rose is safe and puts himself in danger to find out what is really happening, in scenes reminiscent of Aliens of London. Richards also presents The Doctor as someone who can appear at home in any situation, sending him to parties and dinner parties and having him blend in and play along, calling to mind scenes from The End of the World, Aliens of London and The Empty Child.
Jacqueline Rayner's Doctor, as described above, is complex, changeable and reliable. He spends much of Winner Takes All with his light-hearted front in evidence, but is always in the right place at the right time, even if he shrugs this off and makes a joke immediately. When it really counts, he is by turns angry, determined and in control; cool, calm and focused; and ready to put his life in Rose's hands. His actions in the later chapters of the book are most reminiscent of the scenes in the Cabinet Room in World War Three - The Doctor is intense, angry and absolutely determined to stop the alien threat.
As interesting as these three books are, I am not the target audience, and they offer little more than a good light read. However, in the absence of Doctor Who in televisual format, these stories offer a good substitute. They certainly raised a smile in their accurate, if differing, presentations of The Doctor, and each offers a different insight into the personality of this enigmatic alien.