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Combat Rock

Doctor Who: The BBC Past Doctor Adventures #55
Joe Ford

I must say it has taken me much longer to read this book than any other since The Adventuress of Henrietta Street but that is not a slur against its quality. No are several reasons, personal reasons keeping me very busy, the sheer audacity of the content and wanting to make the intensely visceral experience last as long as possible.

Rags was a phenomenon. Needlessly gory, hopelessley full of hate and just a long string of violence with only a quick spit of a plot. It was, however, extremely well written, more vivid than any Doctor Who book in long memory and an experiement that was brave beyond words. I came away extremely conflicted as to whether I should have enjoyed as much as I did and I suppose that should be counted a success, the author having played on my love of good prose, my hatred of needless gore and my LOVE of the Pertwee era.

Combat Rock didn't leave half as queasy. For one it has a rock solid plot to wrap around the more graphic scenes (that's every second page!) so while it was just as disgusting in places the easy to follow plot and well defined motivations softened the blow a little. After finishing this I actually thought I had read a good NOVEL and not just a bundle of hate.

Secondly it uses the Second Doctor, Jaime and Victoria team perfectly. I, much like Finn Clark, wondered how on earth Mick Lewis would write for this wonderful, childlike team. I feared he would treat them as viscously as he did Jo in Rags and if he had I would not have been best pleased. But no, Mr Lewis clearly knows his stuff and captures this bizzarrely lovable team very well. You see, even though we are treated to lots more brutal deaths, undignifying torture and stomach poisoning images we see much of the action through THEIR eyes and it makes the horror of the situation ten times worse. Especially dear sweet Victoria, who isnt used to being assaulted, forced to sleep amongst sweaty men and almost raped. Her horrified reactions were particuarly vivid.

It was the Doctor who I was most disapointed with in this novel and certainly not because he isn't captured perfectly, because he is, but because he is sidelined for too much of the action. Oh he is on all the travels, sure, with his typically embarassed and saddened reactions to the drama but he only really comes into his own in the last few chapters. While this made the end of the book more gripping and actually utilised the troughton era more faithfully than ever (ie, Doc 2 horrified that he is helpless for much of the story and coming through in the end with the answers) it would have been nice to see more of this mischivous clown Lewis writes so well for. Jaime's adventures were just great, from the desperate violence to his loss at understanding Santi to his horror in the Cannibal camp, everything just felt RIGHT.

The book is excellently structured too with some nice comedy in the first two light chapters. You just know as soon as the Doctor accepts a trip to next island that things are going to be nasty there and the amount of anticipation captured in me was exciting. Its horror after horror from then on and I suggest you abandon the book unless you have a strong stomach (Nastily, I read certain parts out to my boyfriend before bed some nights and he was utterly disgusted. he couldn't believe it was a Doctor Who book I was reading). Then the twist fuelled final chapters round of the book in style and there were several revelations that I adored. I love unexpected moments!

Three chapters in I was mightily confused as to who the secondary characters all were but by the end of the book my confusion was gone and I had gotten to know them all fairly well. Even the less defined characters (Wina, Sabit) had excellent moments. Of course, this being Mick Lewis many of them didn't make it to the end and while all the deaths were horrifying, some were more justified than others. Just saying that proves just how nasty some of his characters were.

Im sure this will be better received than Rags, Mick Lewis is clearly a talented man and has honed the skills that impressed me so much in his debut novel to create a superior book. At the end of the day this IS a horror novel and should be read as such. I think its yet another testimont tot the versatility of Doctor Who that this can appear in the same range as say, Verdigris or Palace of the Red Sun. The prose is excellent and really captures the horror and beauty of the wild really well. I connected with many of the characters and I was truly impressed with his ability to think up more and more inventive deaths. Its a rich, vivid work that is as much about atmosphere as it about plot.

Finn Clark

If you don't count Heart of TARDIS, then Combat Rock is only the second Troughton PDA in three years (and worse, the other one was Dying in the Sun). We've waited a long time for this. I loved Rags, which was the redeeming feature of a pretty dire 2001 PDA line-up, but somehow I felt nervous about Combat Rock. Mick Lewis writing for Troughton sounded wrong.

You see, Troughton, Jamie and Victoria had an innocence unique in Doctor Who; no other team of regulars had their utter childlike unworldliness. You wanted to take them home and cuddle them. I'm not normally one to stand on a chair and scream "that's not Who!" but I might if I discovered a horrible, sordid piece of filth in Season Five. Rags was a nihilistic, angry scream that left the UNIT family's innocence battered and bleeding in an alley - and I loved it. But before starting this, I had trepidations.

I needn't have worried. Combat Rock is just as bloody as Rags, but far more Whoish in tone. This is mostly a good thing, but it does make its idiosyncratic plotting more apparent. I'll explain.

My first surprise was that the TARDIS crew slotted perfectly into the story around them. It's an extreme environment of gory violence and prostitution, but the former was never going to be a problem (Season Five attracted criticism for its gratuitous violence at the time) and the latter is defused brilliantly with humour. To my surprise, Combat Rock was funny! The misadventures of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria hit the kind of notes you'd see in a black-and-white Carry On movie rather than something more sordid and inappropriate. Don't laugh - this kind of material has been mishandled like that before in the novels.

I hasten to add that my Carry On reference isn't a slight, but a compliment (unlike for instance Byzantium!). Those early films didn't regard sex as innately funny, but instead derived much humour from dumping their naive male characters in salacious situations and watching them flee in terror. (No, really! In Carry On Cruising, even Sid James can't escape fast enough when Dilys Laye gets predatory.) Here the reactions of Jamie and Victoria to the situations around them are priceless. I was giggling happily, at least until the blood and guts started. It's an approach that's respectful to the characters while easing their black-and-white sensibilities into Mick Lewis's extreme material.

I can't believe I'm discussing Carry On films in a Mick Lewis review. Er, back to Combat Rock.

It's set on a planet that's basically the jungle tourist experience transplanted into space. I had one or two problems with this (would you really still have spear-carrying primitives when they got here by spacecraft?) but it's evoked so vigorously that I soon forgot such niggles. The narrative is full of wonderful descriptive touches, some that even I recognised as wickedly accurate. There's racism and prejudice regarding imperialists versus natives, with Victoria's Victorian attitudes stirred into the mix. The writing is great - so vivid, in fact, that it brings alive material that might otherwise have descended into over-familiar cliche. At root, Combat Rock is basically a story of colonialists versus rebels. If I never see another rebel it'll be too soon... but here you'll forget that we've seen this situation before. Mick Lewis gives this well-worn story element at least two more dimensions than usual and reinvents it. It's cool!

These natives aren't mere savages, but individuals with their own motivations and intelligence. However that doesn't mean they're not savages too. The fiery women are lots of fun - in fact, all the characters play their parts well (except perhaps Drew, whom I think faded into the background a little more than he should have). Troughton's Doctor, famously difficult to capture, isn't brilliant but neither is he bad. Bafflingly, this appears to be a difficult trick for novelists to pull off. He doesn't burn a hole in the page, but he potters through the book accurately enough without ever raising my hackles and so by default this becomes one of his better novel portrayals.

However the characters aren't the important bit. The star of this book is its setting - the jungle, the creatures who live in it and the whole experience of wandering through or living in its tropical chaos.

But the plot... this isn't a plot-driven book. Rags got away with it by being so single-mindedly bleak and different, but in a more Whoish book the lack of plot becomes more obvious. It's more of a travelogue, with a Heart of Darkness vibe. I enjoyed it, but the middle section does drift a bit and I wouldn't mind seeing Mick Lewis try something more plot-heavy next time (if he could do it without compromising the rest of his writing).

I adored Rags for being so in-yer-face and uncompromising. Combat Rock is more conventional and thus didn't light my fire quite so brightly, but it's funnier, more charming and contains some excellent writing. It's very gory, but it's also a Troughton PDA that feels Troughtonish. These days, that's a rare and precious thing. (And best of all, it's not another base under siege!)

Shane Welch

Am I in the minority here? Talking to friends I don't seem to be, but from reading reviews both on this Internet site, and in magazines, I/we definitely seem to be.

I don't like 'Combat Rock'! I don't like the writings of Mick Lewis. I didn't like 'Interference' or any of the works of Lawrence Miles. I don't like the works of Dave Stone or Kate Orman (although her later books are better). For years my least favourite books were 'Left Handed Hummingbird' and 'Sky Pirates', later joined by 'Interference', 'Christmas On A Rational Planet' and 'Adventuress Of Henrietta Street'. In fact, 'Adventuress' and 'Combat Rock' are the only Doctor Who novels I never finished reading.

I do like the works of Terrence Dicks, Steve Lyons, Gareth Roberts, Gary Russell, John Peel and especially Christopher Bulis. My favourite novels are 'Evolution', 'Eye Of The Giant', 'Nightshade', 'Birthright', 'Sorcerer's Apprentice', 'Vanderdeken's Children' and 'State Of Change'.

See a pattern here? Yes, I far prefer the Missing Adventures novels to either the 7th Doctor range, or the current 8th Doctor range. Give me a 'traditional' Pertwee/Troughton/(Tom) Baker story any day!

I'm not saying that 'Combat Rock' or the other books I dislike have no merit. I'm not saying that some, if not most of them weren't well written or didn't have good characterisation. I am saying that to me, they just weren't good Doctor Who!

I've read two completely opposing points of view on the purpose of the Doctor Who novel range. The first is that they should expand the series, explore different styles and themes and to push new boundaries that the series never explored. The second is that they should reflect the feel and style of the 'era' they are set in, just as 'Romance Of Crime' and 'English Way Of Death' fit, stylistically, so perfectly into season 17.

To a degree, both POVs have merit. The 7th Dr books, and later the 8th Dr books certainly seem to be following the first idea - exploring new styles and themes, while (certainly in the early years) the MAs/Past Doctor books reflected a certain feeling, reminiscent of the eras they were set in. But this has changed over the last few years. The PDAs have become more like the 7th Dr and 8DAs.

Back to 'Combat Rock'. I had problems imagining Troughton's Doctor, Jamie and Victoria in this setting. Every time I read 'Doctor', Sylvester's interpretation kept springing to mind. Substitute Ace for Jamie and Benny for Victoria (with some slight re-writing) and you have a typical 7th Doctor story. Nothing in this novel called to mind the 'era' the story was supposedly set in. Everything felt wrong.

Yes, it was the gore, the violence and the 'shock value' of this novel that was the turn off for me. OK, I agree, the Troughton years had violence, but the violence was generally sanitised. All the mindless blood and guts, cannibalism and shooting babies in 'Combat Rock' is just not in keeping with the style of the Troughton era.

While reading 'Combat Rock', I could not shake the feeling it had been written with the 7th or 8th Doctor in mind. In fact a lot of the PDAs of the last few years seen to have been written with the 7th or 8th Doctor in mind. If anyone at BBC Books is reading this, please, can we go back to PDAs that are written for the specific Doctor and their era? No more novels about Doctor X, and "we'll fix it up later with 'find/replace' in the editing!"

And yes, congratulations Mick Lewis, you HAVE won the award for the most excessive use of the words 'penis' and 'whore' in a Doctor Who book! The trophy is in the mail.

Joe Ford

I must say it has taken me much longer to read this book than any other since The Adventuress of Henrietta Street but that is not a slur against its quality. No are several reasons, personal reasons keeping me very busy, the sheer audacity of the content and wanting to make the intensely visceral experience last as long as possible.

Rags was a phenomenon. Needlessly gory, hopelessley full of hate and just a long string of violence with only a quick spit of a plot. It was, however, extremely well written, more vivid than any Doctor Who book in long memory and an experiement that was brave beyond words. I came away extremely conflicted as to whether I should have enjoyed as much as I did and I suppose that should be counted a success, the author having played on my love of good prose, my hatred of needless gore and my LOVE of the Pertwee era.

Combat Rock didn't leave half as queasy. For one it has a rock solid plot to wrap around the more graphic scenes (that's every second page!) so while it was just as disgusting in places the easy to follow plot and well defined motivations softened the blow a little. After finishing this I actually thought I had read a good NOVEL and not just a bundle of hate.

Secondly it uses the Second Doctor, Jaime and Victoria team perfectly. I, much like Finn Clark, wondered how on earth Mick Lewis would write for this wonderful, childlike team. I feared he would treat them as viscously as he did Jo in Rags and if he had I would not have been best pleased. But no, Mr Lewis clearly knows his stuff and captures this bizzarrely lovable team very well. You see, even though we are treated to lots more brutal deaths, undignifying torture and stomach poisoning images we see much of the action through THEIR eyes and it makes the horror of the situation ten times worse. Especially dear sweet Victoria, who isnt used to being assaulted, forced to sleep amongst sweaty men and almost raped. Her horrified reactions were particuarly vivid.

It was the Doctor who I was most disapointed with in this novel and certainly not because he isn't captured perfectly, because he is, but because he is sidelined for too much of the action. Oh he is on all the travels, sure, with his typically embarassed and saddened reactions to the drama but he only really comes into his own in the last few chapters. While this made the end of the book more gripping and actually utilised the troughton era more faithfully than ever (ie, Doc 2 horrified that he is helpless for much of the story and coming through in the end with the answers) it would have been nice to see more of this mischivous clown Lewis writes so well for. Jaime's adventures were just great, from the desperate violence to his loss at understanding Santi to his horror in the Cannibal camp, everything just felt RIGHT.

The book is excellently structured too with some nice comedy in the first two light chapters. You just know as soon as the Doctor accepts a trip to next island that things are going to be nasty there and the amount of anticipation captured in me was exciting. Its horror after horror from then on and I suggest you abandon the book unless you have a strong stomach (Nastily, I read certain parts out to my boyfriend before bed some nights and he was utterly disgusted. he couldn't believe it was a Doctor Who book I was reading). Then the twist fuelled final chapters round of the book in style and there were several revelations that I adored. I love unexpected moments!

Three chapters in I was mightily confused as to who the secondary characters all were but by the end of the book my confusion was gone and I had gotten to know them all fairly well. Even the less defined characters (Wina, Sabit) had excellent moments. Of course, this being Mick Lewis many of them didn't make it to the end and while all the deaths were horrifying, some were more justified than others. Just saying that proves just how nasty some of his characters were.

Im sure this will be better received than Rags, Mick Lewis is clearly a talented man and has honed the skills that impressed me so much in his debut novel to create a superior book. At the end of the day this IS a horror novel and should be read as such. I think its yet another testimont tot the versatility of Doctor Who that this can appear in the same range as say, Verdigris or Palace of the Red Sun. The prose is excellent and really captures the horror and beauty of the wild really well. I connected with many of the characters and I was truly impressed with his ability to think up more and more inventive deaths. Its a rich, vivid work that is as much about atmosphere as it about plot.

After quite a stretch of failures (lets say Independence Day to Byzantium! with only a couple of bright spots in between) the PDA's are finally getting their act together. With Ten Little Aliens, Amorality Tale and this we have had a few winners so lets hope they can keep up the average. With Kate Orman on the way (writing a sixth Doctor book! Yay!) things are looking up for the first time in quite a while.

Lawrence Conquest

Just occasionally an author stumbles on a genre that Who hasn't visit before in its long history of shameless 'borrowings' - here we have Doctor Who Mondo Cannibale! See the semi-naked savages with their penis gourds on display! Gasp at their foul rites as they parade the Mumi's of their long dead ancestors! Shudder as they feast on human flesh! Dare you witness the forbidden horrors of...Combat Rock?

Personally I'm quite partial to a bit of blood-soaked anthropophagus action, but when it comes to literature I prefer strong plots and characterisation to page after page of mindless violence - Ramsey Campbell over Shaun Hutson any day of the week. Fortunately Combat Rock isn't all wading in gore (though there is a fair amount), and there's a decent enough story to keep the reader hooked on plot alone.

Essentially it's a story of colonisation, with the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria getting caught up in the violence erupting between natives, occupying army, cannibal freedom fighters, and a bunch of psychotic mercenaries. Its this last bunch who unfortunately come close to spoiling this novel for me, as they are all so wildly OTT in their psychosis from the start they become totally unbelievable. History has shown us that people who would otherwise be considered 'good upstanding citizens' in peacetime have committed a large number of wartime atrocities. The sad fact is that all some people need to be transformed into a killer is to be given a gun, and the authority to use it. It's difficult to sympathise, or even believe in, the bunch of kill crazy psycho's here, with their non-stop kill-rape-torture-mutilate lack-of-personalities. Indeed the main protagonist - Pan - has a back-story so corny ("So why'd you scream baby, why'd you scream and make the universe no longer safe?" he bawls at one point - poor baby) that it's difficult to do anything other than laugh.

Away from these however and the novel comes to life. The steamy jungle setting is well portrayed with some excellent descriptive writing, and with the level of violence on offer you feel in real danger for the TARDIS crew. It's a little unfortunate the authors pop-culture influences creep so overtly to the fore though - the reader is quite able to notice the thematic links with Apocalypse Now without having the Doctor quoting "The horror, the horror..." at you. Its also a pity some of the Mumis actions are explained away at the end by stage trickery when there's so much general craziness to justify having everything happen as described instead of moving into Scooby-Doo territory ("See gang - it was all achieved by loudspeakers, body cavities, motion detectors and springs!").

Combat Rock is an enjoyable read; for all that it occasionally oversteps the mark in its attempts to shock. Be warned however this is a very bloody book, and beyond the flesh eating I would predict more than a few raised eyebrows over such instances as a character wondering about Victoria giving him a blow-job (is this the first reference to oral sex since the infamous 'taste of semen' scene in Transit?), or the questionable scene of Jamie and the Doctor letting a man be taken away to be killed and eaten at the novels end with little more than a glimmer of guilt. Recommended - but only if you have a strong stomach. Long-pig anyone?

Chad Knueppe

'Then you don't believe the Mumi's are alive?' She could tell by the expressions of the soldiers behind her that they obviously didn't all share their commander's views.

'If the gods are on their side,' he said confidently, then we'll just have to hunt them down and kill them too.' He patted her shoulder. 'Won't we?'


Doctor Who under the authorship of Mick Lewis is disgusting, offensive, violent, bloody gore, but through it all he has created possibly one of the greatest, if not the absolute pinnacle, of all the Second Doctor novels.

Lewis exploded into the mythos of Doctor Who with RAGS, a controversial book of destruction and anarchy that was loved and hated passionately. His second book for the franchise is much more traditional, more in the style of a classic television episode, though we're talking more along the lines of Cybermen erupting in ooze and then we're speaking of Land of Fiction face puzzles or letter forests. But then, even silly looking monsters like the Quarks and Krotons were pretty in-your-face badass killers, so the Troughton era isn't such an incomprehensible stretch for a story like Combat Rock. Lewis' depiction of the Second Doctor, a characterization based so much on Troughton's unique stylings which are considered so difficult to translate into print, is dead on. In a world of whore raping, drunk mercs and head severing cannibals in penis gourds, the Second Doctor leaps to life from the printed page.

The Doctor has arrived with Jamie and Victoria to the jungle planet of Jenggle, home of the Indoni and Papul civilizations. Off worlders are flocking in droves to witness the mummies and totems of the militant Indoni who rule over the broken Papul. Chaos erupts when a mummified chieftan, Mumi, opens his mouth to let loose snakes who attack the tourists. Soon, the jungle is ripe with decapitation and cannibalism, and the consumerism in a world of ancient horror degenerates into a wave of death.

The Doctor and crew arrive just in time to fall into the mess. Jamie goes off to explore the local "culture" that Victoria would not approve of, and the Doctor and Victoria go off to learn more about Batu and the other islands of Jenngel. Jamie spends time in a strip club and hooks up with the provocative, lithe dancing girl Wina. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Victoria are meeting up with tour guide Wemus, who tells them about the variant visitors who come from the skies, and explains the military presence of the Indoni. When the group reunite, they head for the island of Papul, seeking a popular tourist spot but instead finding limitless gore and violent, agonizing death.

Pan, a militant killer who sleeps with whores, curses, rapes and murders, is in the jungle with his group of mercs. The Wild Bunch, essentially your standard fare badass brigade, is made up of Pan, the scholar Clown, bi-sexual Pretty Boy, bowie knife wielding Bass, psychadelic Twist, scarred monster Saw and the black clad Grave. They banter a lot, ribbing each other about whores and kills, and the romp through the jungle killing like it was a child's game. They operate on the behalf of President Sabit, a mad dictator who spouts political rhetoric about sedition and terrorism as he executes his enemies, often civilians and innocents, in public view. He's a villain for the Smiler Dubya generation, and his pack of guerillas are more than just functional in propelling the plot. They are a group of men's men, the kind of men you drink with, the kind of men your girlfriend hates. You know, how women hate Big Trouble In Little China, The Big Lebowski, High Fidelity and the works of Burroughs, Bukowski and Tenatious D? These guys would love all that shit. They're the Reservoir Dogs. Killers with issues and testosterone.

COMBAT ROCK is a terrific read. Jamie shines, immersed in the hedonism that Victoria would oppose. His scenes with the giant Kassowak bird and avoiding becoming a cannibal's dinner are a sheer delight. Victoria plays against he Victorian upbringing as she considers the travesty the imperial industrialist Indoni are inflicting upon the simple Papul people. The characterizations are spot on and you'll actually hear Troughton speak when you read the Second Doctor's lines, not a light feat. While RAGS was criticized for an overly gratuitous level of violence for the sake of violence, COMBAT ROCK will be criticized for an overly gratuitous level of violence that is integral in telling the story. Lewis is much more structured and focused this time around. Instead of "kill, kill, kill, slander God, kill, kill, Doctor drives by on Bessie, kill, kill" as in RAGS, this time we do get "kill, Doctor, kill, Doctor". The violence and chaos drive the story, and horror fans and second Doctor fans with a strong stomach are truly going to cherish this accomplished penis gourd-filled massacre-fest.