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The Devil Goblins From Neptune

Doctor Who: The BBC Past Doctor Adventures #1
Daniel Spotswood

The Devil Goblins from Neptune….enough has probably already been said about the title of this novel; and as it was published around the same time as The Eight Doctors readers would, no doubt, have been very, very worried. Once they got over their trepidation of the title and began turning pages, the worries should have evaporated as they got into a rather engaging read.

Debutante author combo of Keith Topping & Martin Day deliver a tale of action, deception and espionage with a fearsome alien menace. The novel is written with an edge of contemporaneousness with the early Pertwee era; which makes it even better than it would have been had it just used the characters of that time in some setting or another. In fact it goes further – pushing the characters into unfamiliar territory without losing those things which make them familiar. The Brigadier, uncovering rats in the UNIT hierarchy with military bearing, has moments of introspection that enhance his already well developed character. Mike Yates is thrown into command of UNIT’s UK operation in the Brigadier’s absence – his unease and philosophical consideration at such responsibility hints at this future character development. Sgt. Benton goes undercover with a group of hippies with semi-militant views – and while sometimes a foil for comic relief or a fall guy for the odd explosion – his character is developed in ways it never could in the television series. Additionally, UNIT’s bit players (Corporal Bell, for example) are given some air time – and Liz Shaw’s academic past and present are explored a little further than the TV series.

This character development is what authors of new Doctor Who fiction should be attempting to achieve. While some characters may be off limits (The Doctor), Topping and Day show that even well established characters like the Brigadier can be further developed. This approach makes for a more greatly satisfying novel than those where authors place familiar characters in situations that don’t develop or adapt them beyond what we already know.

The Waro make a formidable foe. Like other adversaries of the early Pertwee era, they want to conquer the Earth, exterminate mankind and take up residency themselves. Unlike these others, the Waro have no reasoning behind their actions – in fact they can’t be reasoned with; are adaptive to any device the Doctor (and others) can put together to counter them; and are small and number in the thousands – which renders traditional UNIT weaponry virtually useless against them. Adversaries such as these add extra dimensions to a novel – without a sense of rational order or means of communication, established characters are again thrown into the unfamiliar which gives further scope the development already described, so long as their reactions and adaptability remain convincing. It is here that even the Doctor’s character benefits - megalomaniacs can be defeated through their gloating oversights and errors; but an enemy with no agenda save for sating bloodlust and conquest presents challenges even he can’t be in complete control of. The Waro are given voice through Viscount Rose and Professor Trainor – though they are really only human foils to the greater threat the Waro present in this novel.

On the negative side the plot, in places, suffers from over-complexity. The novel spans the world – with sub-plots involving the leads and supporting characters; and it, at times, loses itself in these. The reader could be forgiven for wondering how characters end up where they do or why they were motivated to perform an act; and while explanation is not neglected, a sentence in some cases should really be a paragraph – particularly as events draw together for the novel’s finale. An additional twenty to thirty pages could have been difference between the solid novel this is and the excellent one it could have been.

My only serious concern about this novel is the nature of its political intrigue – I find the premise that the CIA sought to infiltrate and subvert UNIT through professional jealousy very weak. Perhaps this is further explored in future novels I am yet to read – and the dialogue between the Brigadier and the Doctor in the first epilogue could be read to support this; but as it stands here it certainly needs something more to convince.

The Devil Goblins from Neptune is a promising beginning to the BBC PDA range – a much better start than The Eight Doctors for the EDAs. It sets the bar at a standard that should be a yardstick for future authors; and with Steve Lyons next, looks set to continue.

Finn Clark

In brief: a prototype for The King of Terror, but I had fun with that book too.

There's a lot to like in The Devil Goblins from Neptune, but its plotting is eccentric to say the least. The King of Terror had two races of aliens kicking hell out of each other while UNIT stood on the sidelines... and strangely enough that also describes The Devil Goblins from Neptune.

It actually has two plots. The B-plot involves the Waro, a race of interplanetary Gremlins with artificial wings and voracious appetites. They want to eat the world. It's pretty mundane, really, and far less interesting than the UNIT-related political shenanigans of the A-plot. Just like The King of Terror, this book really comes alive when getting down and dirty with UNIT, Control, the CIA and so forth. It's awkwardly constructed, but it's fun to see someone actually doing something with UNIT instead of just wheeling them out as the usual rent-a-mob. Here we have UNIT's Russian division, backstabbing in Geneva and infiltration by Americans (boo, hiss!). I enjoyed all that.

Unfortunately it falls apart at the end. Deciding that the Waro B-plot deserves centre stage (huh?), the book shoves Control and his lackeys offstage for the last forty pages in favour of a pitched battle against the aliens. This was particularly disappointing since the American conspiracy stuff had been building nicely and really needed more resolution. And in case the story wasn't unwieldy enough with the Doctor, Liz Shaw, the Brigadier, UNIT, the Americans, the Russians and some English bastards who were working with the Waro for no sensible reason, the authors decide to wheel out a deus ex machina (the Nedenah) to save the day without our heroes having to do anything. Gosh, that's lucky! (Okay, the Doctor comes up with a gadget, but it's only a warm-up act for the Nedenah's superior gadget.)

The Nedenah are Grey-like, which made me wonder if they might be leftover Tzun. They're not, despite their similar spacecraft technology (though it's possible that the S'Raph Tzun might have originally been Ph'Sor Tzun-Nedenah hybrids) but even leaving that aside this book doesn't sit comfortably with First Frontier. It's not just the alternate Greys. It's Control's version of American history, with alien contacts back to the forties, the base in Nevada and Control himself being active throughout that time. Was he taking a nap in 1957? Either he's not all he's cracked up to be (a definite possibility, since he's so obviously outclassed by the Nedenah) or he was only giving one side of the picture during that convenient info-dump from p236 onwards.

However you wouldn't read this book for its plot. Despite some manifesto-style character establishment early on that left me feeling clubbed over the head, The Devil Goblins from Neptune is written in an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek style that sometimes lets it get away with crap plot twists because you're not sure if it's not really an overdeveloped sense of irony. Sometimes it's even funny!

This 3rd Doctor is a roaring snob who rubs shoulders with aristocracy at his London club, but he's still the Doctor through and through. Liz Shaw has plenty of oomph too. I enjoyed reading about this UNIT family - even the wildly uncharacteristic Mike Yates, who's a chauvinist, sleeps around and treats women like dirt. Don't worry, mate. You'll return to normal as soon as you appear in a book without Keith Topping's name on the cover. I suppose one might argue that since this book comes before Terror of the Autons, Yates must have taken to heart the "sexist crap" speech on p278 and so this becomes character development rather than just another Topping-ism. (Since he's outed as gay in 2010 in Happy Endings, perhaps his behaviour here is overcompensation?)

This book's set explicitly in the seventies instead of the generic no-man's-era of most UNIT stories. I suppose this is a good thing. The tongue-in-cheek tone extends to its view of the 1970s in taking the piss out of anyone and everyone, from far-out hippies to toffee-nosed bigots. At times this threatens to get a bit political, but it's entertaining enough.

>From a Whoish point of view, this book is ridiculously overstuffed with the authors' pet theories and continuity tweaks. It provides a date for the UNIT era (1970: see p282), Mike Yates's middle names (p278), those bloody alt.universe Beatles, a non-Quatermass surname for "Bernard of the British Rocket Group" and a redefinition of the word constellation that in fact redefines the phrase "painful wank". The marriage of Ian and Barbara (with baby boy) is less obtrusive since it's featured in other books, most obviously The Face of the Enemy, but their son John is in fact the Johnny Chess who keeps being referred to in books by Cornell and Topping. Oh, and the less said about "soul-catching" the better.

The Devil Goblins from Neptune is easy to nitpick, but much of it is very entertaining. It makes UNIT interesting (a real rarity in the books) and creates some pleasant runarounds for the Pertwee-era regulars. You just won't remember its aliens, its bad guys or its plot.

Matthew Mitchell

The Devil Goblins of Neptune? You have got to be kidding me. Is this some blatant attempt to return Doctor Who to its roots -- a title straight out of the sixties and early seventies?

This might shock you all to oblivion, but I happen to be one of those people who did not think Doctor Who was totally ghastly in its final years. Yes, some of Peter Davison's were horrid, and Colin Baker was saddled with nearly the worst scripts ever in the program's history. But many stories, most particularly during the Sylvester McCoy era, showed a tendency to evolve beyond the simplistic good-vs.-evil kids show that was started with William Hartnell back in 1963.

However, now that the BBC has recaptured the rights to Doctor Who for its publishing subsidiary, they seem to want to erase not only the entire Virgin New & Missing Adventures continuity, but also the last few years of the series. The title of this book (Devil Goblins of Neptune -- ecchh! They couldn't come up with anything better than that?)

All right, let's be fair. The story itself is not bad. Basically, sometime in 1971, a group of hostile aliens land on Earth, both in England and the Soviet Union. Inexplicably, a group of Russian UNIT troops try to kidnap the Third Doctor, who is currently in exile on Earth and working as Scientific Advisor to UNIT's British section. A CIA mole manages to penetrate UNIT's security with almost ridiculous ease. Evidence of corruption points to UNIT's Supreme Command of Geneva. And this is just the first half of the book.

While the main plot of the book -- them evil BEMs from Outta Space a'comin' to git us -- the myriad subplots and Their Name Is Legion manage to keep this book moving along amidst hilarious alternate-history jokes (e.g. one character mentions the Beatles having stayed together after Paul McCartney left, replacing him with Billy [Preston] and Klaus [Voorman]. I'm sorry, I love gags like that. There's a You Might Be a Fan... in there somewhere.) Unfortunately, there is not enough to the main Devil Goblins story to resist the temptation to skip ahead to the good parts.

Then, there's the problem of overall continuity. (Continuity? I hear you reply incredulously. What d'ya think this is -- Babylon 5? Oh, be quiet.) Since BBC Books yanked Who away from Virgin, we would be fools to think that anything from the New & Missing Adventures would be used or referred to. Therefore, once we got to the part where the Doctor ends up at Area 51, we know that these aliens are not going to be the Tzun, fabled in NA's & MA's by David McIntee and others, but rather the Nedenah.

Like I said: Ecch.