As Erimem and I walked together down the hill, we shared a kind of secret laugh – conspirators who’d put one over on the Doctor. I wonder if this is what having a sister is like? I hope so.
Iain McLaughlin’s brilliant Telos Novella Blood and Hope takes place during the American Civil War between the Union and Confederacy. This time of decadence and debacle creates a chilling and heartfelt setting, one that elevates standard Doctor Who into a mainstream adventure that appeals to all readers for it’s heartfelt sincerity, integrity of purpose and challenging insights on the human condition.
In the novella, Paul LeVal graduates West Point and returns home South Carolina, saying good-bye to his closest friend, his cousin Will Johnson. While there, South Carolina secedes, and soon the southern states form The Confederacy. Soon, the two inseparable cousins find themselves in opposing sides of the American Civil War. Paul, who sees slavery as immoral, speaks out against the conflict, and is transferred to the command of his father’s friend, Colonel Jubal Eustace, a pitiless man notoriously insistent that his men endure rough, unbending discipline. Paul begins to crumble, his parents killed in the course of the war, his spirit broken and his body ravaged by the conflict. The story of Paul’s fall, and of Will’s search for his friend, leads to a confrontation between the two that is compelling, emotional and distressing because, like all good literature should, it challenges the reader to consider the fabric of his or her own life, and circumstances.
During a time when a people of a darker skin were enslaved in the United States, Erimem’s dark Egyptian skin makes her appear, in the ignorant eyes of the time, to be a slave. Now, this has a lot of compelling implications in terms of storytelling, and seems ripe with promise, even in a First Doctor era historical, but in the wrong hands this idea could easily degenerate into a pulp nightmare. McLaughlin handles it with reverence and artistry, and instead of playing up the situation, he utilizes it to say something stronger about Erimem’s own confidence, as she playfully enjoys acting out the role of slave. Having dark skin in the American South compels one single minded storyline, but, McLaughlin, being the creator of the character, wisely plays out the deeper significance, that Erimem was a Pharaoh who had slaves, and that she’s a light hearted and fun spirited gal, who has the buoyancy to enjoy herself in roleplay, even in such a dire situation.
The depiction of the Fifth Doctor in Blood and Hope was inspiring. Nobody but the Fifth could bound from a burning barn, slave in tow, in quite the same manner. Nor could any other Doctor offer the realism inherent in scenes in which the Doctor truly surrenders himself to his admiration of Lincoln. The Fifth Doctor truly is touched by meeting the man, and mourns his passing with a respect that is extremely telling, and truthful. It’s rather interesting to consider that this is the only Fifth Doctor appearance from Telos, because it’s hailed by many as the absolute best novella of the entire range, and quite deservedly so. It seems even more interesting, at least to me, that when you look at these “spin off” ranges, both Telos, and Big Finish, the company that most benefited from Telos’ demise, have Fifth Doctor stories hailed as the best of all their offerings. The Big Finish one being, of course, Spare Parts.
I think, for me, the most affecting character in the novella was Peri. She represents the archetypal “time traveler” to the everyman, more so than usual, because she’s an American taking place in her own American history. Written by an Englishman, she’s given a bit more education about her past than most Americans would readily understand, but it reads true enough, as she sorts out the difference between what she read in school books and what her senses and real world experience tell her. Peri rises to the challenges of this environment much differently than Erimem, she tricks unrelenting Colonel Eustace into believing Erimem is her slave after witnessing him beat his own men for allowing slaves to escape. She is strong, assertive and focused, and genuinely suffers from having been forced to murder. Though she did so to save Erimem, who cherishes the deed she believes is justified as it has saved her life, Peri is unable even to face her friend for some time, withdrawn into self-deprecating angst over the experience. The raw emotional impact of Peri’s inner conflict not only touches the reader quite deeply, but it builds upon Peri’s character like nothing ever written about her before. Peri, as a character, needed this. Having washed up naked in one book, having become a gun toting mercenary in another, this book gives Peri the respect and humanity the character deserves, and exonerates the horrible discourtesies of the fanwank rubbish that was the book Warmonger, a novel the reveled in Peri’s “little triumphs” and distinguished her as little more than an object of lust. Blood and Hope offers a more realized and respectful actualization of Peri, one that should be celebrated for its humanity. Peri’s reconciliation of the murder with Erimem is tender, sweet and very real.
The greatest achievement in terms of Blood and Hope’s artistry exists in that the structure is written in a series of corresponding letters sent between its main characters, and audio diaries, and so forth. This allows the reader to feel like a student of the material, reaching into the past through pure research, but balances this with a true sense of connection, of being there, participating, as if the letters are meant for the reader alone. More so than any other Doctor Who book in recent memory, this book connects to the reader’s deepest fears, insights, hopes, disparities and triumphs. We honor Lincoln with the Doctor, we fear for Erimem with Peri, we hope the best for friends torn apart by war. During our own current period of history, as Doctor Who returns to TV, with Americans completely divided against each other on levels of principle, this novella is as poignant as it is enriching, as it touches a very personal part of us, Doctor Who fans or not. It truly speaks to our fears, and appeals to our hope.
Though Telos had their license revoked, and the entire franchise suffered a terrific loss from that decision, the BBC has a new range of novellas, though they appear under the guise of “younger audience” books, depicting the adventures of the Ninth Doctor and Rose. Still, it seems rather affecting to lose Telos, who had offered so much limitless potential, in the choice of authors and sheer variety of tales. With any luck, Doctor Who will one day rise up, and have another crack at such an enriching format, albeit with the inspired possiblilities Telos offered. Melancholy may mark the end of the Telos Novella era, but admiration abounds in what they accomplished, and the legacy of books we will cherish forever. Certainly, a feeling of Blood and Hope.
"Slavery, which ruptured the American Republic, was at its heart inhumane and the Doctor, by his very presence, confronts it by his own insistent humanity." -- from the foreword by John Ostrander
It's interesting coming to Blood and Hope from an American perspective; the novella is clearly written with an eye toward "foreign" readers. Yet it is neither patronizing nor obvious, using a historical setting to instead examine the principal characters and their relationships with what is, essentially, an alien Earth setting. In almost every respect, this is a traditional Doctor Who historical, but Iain McLaughlin invests it with emotional depth and narrative style that would have been unheard of in Doctor Who's historical era.
John Ostrander's foreword serves mostly as a background piece, informing the reader of the nature of the Civil War. It's straightforward and necessary, but doesn't serve much of a point beyond the purely informative. Still, it serves its purpose well - it's just something of a shame that we don't get to read Ostrander's take on Doctor Who or the story itself. I also despise the capitalization of the word "black," but I rail against that in any publication, scholarly or fictional.
McLaughlin chooses to tell the story in an epistolary fashion - letters written between characters and audio diaries of Peri and later Erimem. This is surprisingly effective, as the letters and extracts are composed to convey equal portions of plot and character. Reading the novella this way allows us to see the "brother against brother" nature of the Civil War from opposite sides as well as the views of relative outsiders, but still gives insights into the thought processes of individual characters. Efforts are made as well to accurately recreate the materiality of the source - Peri's direct address to the tape recorder is transcribed along with the relevant plot material, for example - and this lends a greater sense of realism to the proceedings.
The plot isn't particularly deep; it's a typical Doctor Who historical. The Doctor and companions become separated and find themselves embroiled with different historical figures from the time period, often (and in this case) on opposite sides, before reuniting in a violent finale. As above, though, the strength of this novella lies not in plotting but in characterization.
The Doctor is absolutely brilliant in this. Davison was the perfect selection for a Civil War story, given his natural compassion and humanity. The image of the fifth Doctor emerging from a burning barn, escaping slave in tow, doesn't function with the others because they simply don't get involved on a personal level to the same degree as Davison's Doctor. His mournful respect for Lincoln is heartbreaking but utterly natural - what other Doctor could pull that off properly? It is clear from the text that McLaughlin has an almost perfect understanding of the fifth Doctor; this wasn't quite as clear in The Eye of the Scorpion and it's refreshing here, especially given that this is the only Davison offering from Telos.
Peri comes off just as well. Sure, the "horrors of war" themes can seem cliched, and people have fairly questioned if the Peri in Androzani could possibly have undergone all this development, but who cares? It's wonderful to see an author actually use the fact that Peri is American to dramatic effect, especially here where her knowledge of the Civil War allows her to adapt skillfully to the situation. Yet the things she is forced to do under the pretext of maintaining her charade demonstrate the horrible nature of the North/South division as well as slavery itself; indeed, her mental breakdown is both realistic and sensitively handled.
This is also the first appearance of Erimem outside the confines of Big Finish, and as she's written by her creator it's no surprise that she comes off very well. I did not expect to see Erimem take the pretending-to-be-a-slave act in stride and even enjoy it, and I was even more surprised to find her enjoying it, but it worked all the same. I do think that more time could have been spent on the impact of the surrounding society on Erimem, but given the short length of the novella, it was probably wiser for McLaughlin to constrain the bulk of the development to Peri. That's an interesting twist in itself, incidentally; one would naturally expect that Erimem would be the one going through hell due to her skin color, but she escapes virtually unscathed.
The novella is a bit melodramatic concerning people's attitudes toward slavery, however. Lines like "You and I, we both played with slave children when we were young. We didn't care about the color of their skin" come across as somewhat hackneyed, as *truly* enlightened views such as that were quite infrequent at the time, even among abolitionists. And though Lincoln was venerated as a hero by slaves of the time, he was careful to keep his enthusiasm for emancipation in check because it infuriated much of the electorate, including many people in the North. That being said, the Lincoln seen here is only portrayed through the eyes of others, all of whom venerate him in almost mythical capacity, so it is unsurprising that he comes across as such.
Many people complain about "traditional" or "real" Doctor Who being at odds with much of the books' output. Blood and Hope disproves this: it is a mature, emotionally-powerful piece of fiction, but it is simultaneously a through-and-through Doctor Who historical. Does it achieve the narrative complexity of a Cabinet of Light? No - indeed, it is rather straightforward - but it is still exceptional work.
I’m awful at history, and what little I can remember comes from Doctor Who, so this American Civil War novella does at least fulfil the original series remit of being educational. The story of the 5th Doctor, Peri and Erimem’s involvement in the closing stages of the war is told via a collection of letters and diary entries from the various protagonists – a well worn convention but one that works well here, as it enables us to examine the conflict equally well from both sides.
Blood and Hope is readable, engrossing and mainly enjoyable – my only real criticism is it all seems very light. The story itself is very minor, and disappointingly once you strip away the presentation the actual plot mechanics are straight out of the old Hartnell historicals – the regulars land, get split up, and get involved in various historical incidents as they fight their way back to the TARDIS. The Doctor stays mostly on the sidelines, heavy-handedly wrestling with his conscience over whether to inform Lincoln of his impending death (we all know he won’t). Peri gets hit on by the main bad guy as per usual, though this time he seems to after her money rather than her body. The biggest surprise is Erimem – as the authors creation, and with the blurb highlighting her skin colour, I had expected her to take a central role. Instead she is almost absent from the book, in no small part due to being virtually denied a voice to tell any of the tale. She goes ‘undercover’ as a slave and…that’s it really.
What we are left with is a very small scale old-fashioned historical. Yes, it’s nice, but disappointingly there’s nothing here that would have looked out of place on TV 40 years ago. A pleasant but rather generic historical enlivened only by the presentation.
I've watched a number of the Davison historical TV stories recently and this novella fits comfortably with Black Orchid and The Visitation - though I should add that as a product of the English education system I know little more of the American Civil War than what I've gleaned from the novels of Harry Turtledove... The historical frame, though is almost less important than the story, callous though that may seem.
The story is told through letters, extracts of speeches and documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the secession of South Carolina from the Union - and Peri's audio diary. There are two main narratives - that concerning the Doctor (who becomes separated from Peri and Erimem early on, just after the TARDIS arrives on the Confederate side of the front in the closing months of the War) is told by a Union officer in letters to his beloved. The compassionate Sixth Doctor serves as a medic and is in his element here. A sub-plot involves this officer searching for a pre-war friend on the opposing side.
This friend is seen mostly through Peri's eyes, as she and Erimem struggle to survive in the South, with Erimem (whose skin is dark enough to be taken for 'a quadroon') posing as Peri's slave. This is an uncomfortable rôle for Peri, though Erimem seems to enjoy the play-acting for most of the time. The unfortunate Lieutenant LeVal has been systematically brutalised by his superior for much of the war and it is his redemption that closes the book. Meanwhile Peri has her own demons to slay - and a relationship with Erimem to rebuild.
This short book (under a hundred pages) packs a punch far greater than its size suggests, not least in the portrayal of the Doctor's struggle to not warn Lincoln of his impending assassination. It's not the best Telos novella (that prize is still held by Fallen Gods, imho) but it is certainly in the top three or four and is thoroughly recommended.
Best. Telos. Novella. Ever. (In my opinion.)
Until now I hadn't been blown away by a Telos novella. I could see the quality in something like Fallen Gods or The Cabinet of Light, but I didn't always connect with them emotionally. 'Twas like being fed a spoonful of the most carefully prepared haute cuisine, but afterwards still being hungry. And then certain other novellas hadn't worked for me at all. However I loved Blood and Hope.
In some senses it's a fairly traditional story, albeit presented in an epistolary form. For starters it's an American Civil War historical written by a Brit, which could have been toe-curling but succeeded beyond all my expectations. Part of it's the TARDIS crew. Historicals have been attempted with several post-Hartnell Doctors by now, but the vulnerability and understated realism of Davison's character works better than most in an authentic setting like this. I suspect the other Doctors are too larger-than-life to fit so comfortably into the template of Doctor Who's early years. Should you wish to test this thesis, check out the novel-length Colin Baker Find Your Fate adventure book set in the same historical period (Doctor Who and the Rebel's Gamble, by William H. Keith, Jr), published by FASA in 1986. It's a worthy attempt, but it's not the same.
Peri and Eminem are perfect, too. Peri is great because she's an ordinary American in a period she knows from her schoolbooks, which may sound like a rather predictable reader hook but actually works like a charm. She's plugged into what's going around her. It has meaning for her. What's more, she knows something about it (but not everything) and so can clue in the reader naturally as she shepherds Embryem through the dangers that beset them.
Ah yes. Elbumen: the Egyptian Pharoah who's apparently travelling with the 5th Doctor in Big Finish audios. This sounded like stunt casting when we all heard about it (having flashbacks to Instruments of Darkness), but it's totally justified. She's slightly Leela-like in her unfamiliarity with the modern world and much more that we'd take for granted, but more fundamentally she's a coloured teenager in the Confederate States in 1865. Simple, yes, but it makes for a powerful story.
Incidentally, this is the first time we've seen Peri travelling with another female companion. Her time in the TARDIS was male-dominated, whether we're talking about her one-off meetings with other companions (Turlough, Jamie), the pseudo-companions of the Colin Baker era (Lieutenant Hugo Lang, Commander Lytton, Herbert George Wells) or her only co-companion before now (Frobisher). Having a female friend rather suits her.
In a sense I'm not fully qualified to comment on this novella. I'm eager to see what American readers make of Blood and Hope, but as an Englishman of little acquaintance with the subject matter I found it convincing and moving. (Well, John Ostrander seems to think so in his foreword and since he's a god upon this earth I couldn't even dream of disagreeing.) The epistolary format is used cleverly, allowing Iain McLaughlin to drop in extracts from Abraham Lincoln's speeches, the Declaration of Independence, South Carolina's statement of secession and more alongside the personal letters from his original characters. In a more conventional narrative this might have felt awkward, but here it really brings the history alive.
The novella also avoids certain traps inherent in its chosen format. In my opinion it's easy to lose one's way with an epistolary novel, waffling on with the most self-indulgent kind of first-person narration. Blood and Hope avoids that, instead giving us meaty letters that have plenty to say and get on with doing so. In my opinion it does so better than many non-Who novels I've read that tried the format. Another danger is the risk of distancing; it's easy for second-hand reportage to remove one from the action and make it harder for the reader to care about the story (as happened for some readers with The Adventuress of Henrietta Street). Again no such problem surfaces here. On the contrary, this narrative has power.
This isn't as experimental a novella as some, but it's a sensitive yet energetic portrayal of a turbulent time. Its use of the 5th Doctor will make you wonder why we haven't had more Davison historicals, while Peri and Elbowem are terrific. This Telos novella is well worth its asking price. Heartily recommended.