Well I’m 21 books into my fabulous eighth Doctor marathon and finally everything seems to be coming together. Out of all the books I have read so far only four have come anywhere near being as good as this, Vampire Science, Alien Bodies, Seeing I and The Scarlet Empress. Revolution Man is everything good Doctor Who should be, bold, shocking, full of great set pieces, interesting characters and a powerhouse ending. I don’t think it is possible to read this book and not have a reaction to it.
The regulars are all divine and it is astonishing to think it has taken this long to get them this right, but all three of them are vivid and used to drive the story along. Adding Fitz to the mix really has shaken things up, these books can no longer rest on the sugary soap opera relationship between Sam and the Doctor and planting the three equally opinionated companions into the sixties proves a fascinating exploration of each of their characters.
This book features the best chemistry between the Doctor and Sam since The Scarlet Empress and the best all round interpretation of Sam’s character since Seeing I. She is marvellous, a far cry from the angst-ridden kid of the previous five or six books. Sam is intelligent enough to recognise the growing sense of dissatisfaction at the end of the sixties, wishful thinking turning into paranoia and hatred and she also identifies the darker side to the ‘Flower Children’, the sexism and homophobia that was still to be conquered. She thinks of Fitz as funny and intelligent and not half as cynical as he would like to think and when he says he is leaving the TARDIS it is sweet to see how shocked and upset she is about it (especially after giving him escape plan and first aid training!). She ingratiates herself with the TLB with ease, is contrasted wonderfully with psycho-campaigner Pippa and realises that meeting up with legends (Rex) is not always a good idea, as they never quite live up to what you expect. She is bright, resourceful, entertaining and perceptive. What took so damn long? Why can’t every author get her this right? Not annoying, not preachy, Sam is pretty cool (oh my, did I just say that?).
Revolution Man features a very dramatic take on the Doctor’s responsibilities to time as he dashes about trying to cancel out all of the Revolution Man’s meddling. Like Paul Leonard’s Genocide he is no longer the congenital idiot but a much darker, more contemplative character. The situation gets so dangerous at the climax he throws all of his morals away and does two things that most fans seem to think are unthinkable, he fires a gun and kills somebody and takes drugs to save the world. Oh get home and hide away you babies! This is fantastic stuff; jaw dropping in the extreme and boundary pushing in all the best ways. But then again I didn’t much care when the sixth Doctor cyanided Shockeye to death; the fourth Doctor beat shit out of Scorby or when the eighth Doctor later kills Nepath, kicks seven shades out of Ferran and smacked Basalt in the guts. I like it when the Doctor has to play dirty, it shows a violent, unpredictable side to his personality and proves how truly desperate the situation has become (because in any other circumstances he would never stoop so low). The guy does not have a halo around his head, he is not infallible, and anyone who genuinely feels the Doctor should only defeat his villains with non-violent answers is extremely deluded. How Paul Cornell can admire the climax of Remembrance of the Daleks (where the Doctor wipes out an entire planet and its population) but get into a hissy fit when the sixth Doctor picks up a gun is beyond me. The bottom line is the Doctor shoots Ed Hill to save the Earth, he hates that he has done it but it was necessary. As I said, brilliant and bold. I love it.
Fitz is MARKED, each time it looks as though he and the Doctor have split danger follows him and they are reunited. This happens in Interference, Time Zero and The Gallifrey Chronicles and Revolution Man starts the trend very nicely. He pretty much leaves as soon as he can, feeling excluded from the Doctor and Sam’s inner circle. It also sees the start of the monthly Fitz torture, where he is beaten and bruised on a regular occasion. Here he is kidnapped, brainwashed, chased around the world under the influence of alien drugs and forced into shooting a man. The poor sod leaves the book reeling at the events that have taken place and so do we…is he still under the influence of Mao, or has he become an unthinking killer…? Fascinating developments from a trio who were blander than Margarita Pizza just one book ago.
Basing a book on drug taking was always going to be risky but Leonard pulls it off with real style, mainly because his prose has always had that sort of trippy, hypnotic feel to it that makes the scenes in this book of people intoxicated so powerful. You almost get the impression that Leonard knows exactly what it is like to be under the influence of psychedelic mind altering drugs, scenes of Fitz and Jin-Ming as giants chasing around the world, using mountains as stepping stones and oceans to break their fall, are frighteningly vivid. The consequences of people taking Om-Tsor are frequently dramatic, never letting the reader get too comfortable. The train derailed, the earthquake in Rome, the ceiling ripped from the concert in London, the gun magically flying through the air and discharging…all of these are shocking moments and are written as though they are important, part of an ominous scheme. The identity of the Revolution Man is a genuine surprise too with several red herrings tossed about before the real enemy reveals himself.
There are lots of little innovations in the book that help to sugar the pill. The TARDIS calling card is fine idea, as is the lovely moment when Sam phones someone in Kent and says “S for Sam” and the operator tells her where the Doctor is. The growing TARDIS (melting like a candle) is a terrifying, coupled with Ed’s horrific flowing wound in the middle of his head makes for an extremely gory, hard to forget climax. The novel is once again written with simple language (Leonard’s calling card) but he stuffs it full of stimulating sights, sounds and smells…planting the reader directly in the story. Evocative in all the best ways, it makes up for any five blandly written books in the EDA range so far.
A mature work, which is underrated and deserves re-evaluation. It stands as one of the better Stephen Cole edited EDAs (simply because Leonard is good enough a writer to survive the usual sloppy editing of this period) and a book to recommend to friends who might frown at your love of Doctor Who books and think they are the literate equivalent of Harry Potter.
The 60's. Not exactly my generation. I remember with longing the days when I was a teenager grooving to Culture Club, David Bowie, Madonna and Prince. (Sorry, but us gen-X'ers, as so many of you like to call us, are becoming increasingly nostalgic as the music we listened to is suddenly becoming "classic rock". Very disconcerting.)
Not being a product of the 60's, per se, I approached this novel with trepidation. Mention the late 60's to me, and I think of big flower patterns, Vietnam protests and lots of illegal drugs. I'm also not exactly what you would call a fan of Paul Leonard's earlier work; "Venusian Lullaby," despite all the glowing reviews, left me cold; I hated "Speed of Flight". With this combination of untrusted author and untested era, I wondered if I'd even be able to make sense of this book.
Thankfully, it surpassed my expectations. "Revolution Man" is a character study more than a thriller. It doesn't have a villain, really; there are no aliens or robots running around, and the only antagonist that one can really find is more of a concept than an enemy. In this case, the antagonist is Om-Tsor... a drug, a concoction, an entity, call it what you will. To me, Om-Tsor is analogous to the spores that affected Spock and the Omicron Ceti III colonists in Star Trek's "This Side of Paradise", a temptation without form, a villain without consciousness. Om-Tsor grows only in the highest parts of the Himalayas, and came to Earth long, long ago; now, it's something everyone wants to get his hands on. The flower children want it; the Chinese army wants it.
"Revolution Man" derives its character study from three places: the Doctor's long-presumed status as an aging hippie, and his sympathy for the flower children of the late 60's; Sam's increasingly adult behavior, vis a vis her growing awareness and insight; and Fitz's longing to be part of something. Indeed, Fitz seems to have adopted Sam's pre-"Seeing I" innocence. Fitz wants desperately to find happiness and love, and falls for Maddie, the woman at the heart of this vast conspiracy which turns out not to actually be one.
When the Doctor, Fitz and Sam arrive on Earth (multiple times, natch) they involve themselves in this growing revolution of thought, but soon realize they are facing something far more powerful than an Awakening... the drug Om-Tsor gives its user the power to shape reality. In the wrong hands, it could be deadly. Wrong hands which include the Chinese, "liberated" under Mao's teachings and currently stomping all over most of eastern Asia (having unjustly taken Tibet years before). Among the many characters we meet are an aging French revolutionary who the Doctor discovers a kinship with, even though they do not achieve any sort of meeting of the minds; Maddie, the idealist that Fitz wants so desperately to remain with; and Ed, a musician who seems to be merely an instrument of Om-Tsor, which may indeed have conscious plans for this frail little planet.
The novel is not without its problems, and they are big ones. The "revolution man" who seems to leave his mark on the planet is not really one person so much as a concept that never truly takes form. There are a wealth of minor characters (including a rather annoying young woman, Pippa, who seems to be merely a catalyst to get Sam and the Doctor into danger) and none of them are particularly well drawn out. Also, after the majesty that was "Seeing I," with an extraordinary portrait of Sam's development over three years without the Doctor -- and even with the earlier advancement of Ace in the Virgin series, spending three years away from the Doctor to join SpaceFleet and fight Daleks -- I found the year or two that Fitz spends away from the Doctor in this book to be overkill. It was unnecessary, and certainly speaks of a lack of ideas.
Nevertheless, while the Doctor spends a great deal of time running here and there, and you're never exactly sure what his plans are, Fitz is drawn exceedingly well. He achieves almost a renaissance of thought while he's in the mountains with Maddie. Before this book, he's an immature brat, like a post-teen nihilist without a clue as to whether he should get up in the morning. Fitz Kreiner finds out more about himself in this book than in the previous two, and by the end, it's not as if he's forced to go with the Doctor; he actually seems to want to, and has redeveloped his youthful enthusiasm. Likewise, Sam seems well at home in the 1960's, but then, she's always been a revolutionary at heart. The Doctor is also at home, though my only complaint about him is he's a little under-used (then again, that's an old problem with many a Who novel.)
While not the best Eighth Doctor book around, certainly it's a good read and it's really never dull. It's also an era that, surprisingly, has never been explored by Doctor Who, and it's about time. Read and enjoy!
In brief: It's fantastic, it's trippy, it's brilliant... for about three quarters of the book. And then it ends. Or rather, it doesn't. And it commits just about the worst crime possible in the last few pages.
Spoilers follow. I've saved the biggest until the end and included a separate warning as well.
I think my overriding feeling about the EDAs is "disappointment". I've constantly been disappointed, at first by the low quality and then lately by books that attempt to be something reasonable or even very good indeed, but don't quite manage to get there. There's a wealth of examples, but most notable are The Scarlet Empress, The Face-Eater and Demontage, all setting their sights high and all failing to achieve what they promised.
Revolution Man is doubly frustrating because it's so good for so much of it.
There's some great stuff here and no mistake. The sixties are evoked really well, in my child-of-the-seventies opinion. We get a lot of the nineties view of the sixties, with a combination of fond regard and laughing at the naivete. One positive thing that recent books seem to have done well is their setting. A lot of pre-thought has been going into the settings for the novels and this comes across beautifully.
Fortunately there's more than just this to Revolution Man. It fairly breezes along, with so much pace that you don't really notice that the Doctor has very little to do other than to flit about in the TARDIS a bit. The three settings give us beautiful snapshots of the unfolding story that would have dragged if we'd followed it along evenly. The newspaper articles are fantastic (although it makes the BBC look like they've skimped on the printing costs, because the only thing that differentiates them from the rest of the text is that the headings are in italics. C'mon, BBC, is a newspaper-looking font too much to ask for? Or even the articles themseves in italics? It's not like the page count exactly broke the bank on this one, is it?)
Fitz gets a lot of development here, ala Seeing I. Most of it takes place offstage, which is probably a good thing, because, unlike Sam, he didn't really need it. It also won't be such a problem if the events here aren't followed up, because he really isn't that different at the end.
Sam, however, is rather good in this novel. I'm surprised, but I'm grateful. Sadly, it looks as though we've *finally* gotten to see the more mature Sam from Seeing I. I can't believe it's taken ten months for this Sam to appear. I mean, it's not as though the developments in Seeing I weren't planned by the editor, so I'm frankly at a loss to understand why we haven't seen this sooner.
This is a big problem with the EDAs. Whenever they get something right, it seems to take forever for it to be followed up on (such as Alien Bodies, or not at all in the character of the Doctor from Vampire Science). What's most frustrating of all is that when a good book like Revolution Man finally picks up on the developments almost a *year* later, it feels old.
Still, I kind of liked Sam in this one. She gets to be mildly amusing for once and self-deprecating without seeming contrived for the first time ever. She recognises that the shallow idealists of the sixties are exactly what she used to be (she must have been reading some of the EDA reviews!) and seems a lot more mature than ever. There might just be hope for her yet. Okay, she still does a couple of irritating things,. but I'm so impressed by the good stuff here that I'm prepared to overlook them. Bravo!
Unfortunately, it all falls apart at the end. Somebody grab Paul Leonard, sit him down and explain to him that books need endings as well. Really. He might have modelled his novel structuring on Jim Mortimore, but he's used Parasite as a template and that's just not on. You just can't write a magnificent book without ending it, Paul, you big tease.
But there are even bigger problems here. Turn back now if you don't want the details.
Okay, so Maddie holds a gun to the Doctor's head inside the TARDIS. Yes, the machine with temporal grace. Fine, thinks I, it's all a ruse by the Doctor and he actually wants to do what she wants him to do so he's going along with it. But that doesn't seem to be the case, so we have to assume temporal grace is switched off. Okay, I can buy that, I've suffered worse coincidences in these books (although a mention would have been nice).
Fitz picks up a gun and shoots Ed in the forehead. I don't like this at all, but we've had companions commit murder before and it doesn't work anyway. Okay, no problem. But then, on page 243, the Doctor picks up the gun, places it to the back of Ed's neck and fires, killing him.
I'm sorry, but no. The Doctor does *not*, under any circumstances, pick up a gun and murder a human being in cold blood. No. That misses the entire point of Doctor Who, to my mind. The Doctor finds another way, he does not compromise his principles on this point. I don't care if that limits the character or if it restricts your moral dilemma of the week (which gets tacked on to the end of a novel you couldn't be bothered to finish, so don't try claiming the moral-dilemma high-ground here, Mr Leonard!)
And what happens next? There's a two page discussion where the only person who seems upset by this is Sam.... and she decides to blame Fitz and even goes so far as telling him not to bother the Doctor because "he'll be feeling sick with guilt". Huh? In one fell stroke the competent, mature Sam is completely undone by the end of the book. She has the potential to use her self-righteous anger for a good reason, yet she chooses to keep quiet so as not to rock the boat. Sam?!?
I remember hearing advance word about Love and War and the terrible, terrible thing that the Doctor does. My little fanboy heart clenched in fear, because I was worried that Paul Cornell was going to have the Doctor murder someone in cold blood. Fortunately, when I read the book, I was pleasantly surprised that no such thing happened. The line was approached, yes, but never crossed. The so-called dark Doctor of the NAs never bothered me because he was still operating under fundamentally Doctorish principles (Lucifer Rising excepted). The eighth Doctor appears to have abandoned those principles on more than one occasion now. A likable or interesting character this does not make.
Well, there you have it. I'm really, really upset by the ending. It goes against so many fundamental tenets of what Doctor Who is all about. It ruins an otherwise excellent book. It reads to me as though the author had very little point other than to push some fan buttons (well, he certainly pushed mine!) because he couldn't think of a way of wrapping up his story. There's a bit in the guidelines about this Doctor sometimes making mistakes, ala his accidental mass murder of the Zygons in The Bodysnatchers (something else I still can't believe got through, but we were given the standard Buffini propaganda at the time). As a formula for a successful Doctor, I think the BBC don't really understand their own character. It's distressing that what should have been the best book in the EDA line for simply ages had to turn out so fundamentally *wrong*.
Paul Leonard has come out with another excellent novel...this time delving into the incidents leading into a possible Third World War.
Set back in the late 1960's, Flower Power is strong, people are standing up against war, capitalism and anything run by the system. But a new player is in town...the new Messiah; the Revolution Man. And his weapon is Om-Tsor, a very powerful drug that gives the user unimaginable telekinetic and telepathic powers.
This novel spans over a couple of years, and takes place mostly in England, with some scenes in Nepal and China. Fitz decides to stay on Earth as the Doctor and Sam hop from time zone to time zone. There are conspiracies aplenty (or are there?), some really good characters, lots of action, and that wacky devil's music now lovingly labelled as classic rock.
Right off the bat, I have to take a quick side track to explain something that was really cool about this story. The Doctor, Sam and Fitz land the TARDIS in front of the Earl's Court tube station. This is significant because apparently it is the location of the last functioning blue telephone box in England (from what I was told) AND was just three blocks from the hotel we stayed at on our honeymoon. (Yes another honeymoon reference). So when they stepped out of the TARDIS, I really felt like I was there. I could picture everything from the front of the station, to the news stand beside the telephone box. It was very real.
I thought Sam really worked well in this story. She is an advocate against just about anything fun (rather like Lisa Simpson), and she gets hooked up (sort of) with the TLB, a group who protest against just about everything capitalist. Sam remarks how they need focus and how ineffectual the TLB protests really were because they lacked focus and vision. In retrospect however, if it wasn't for the non-focused protestors of the '60's, we might not have a lot of the freedoms we have today. I was born in the early '70's so I missed a lot of the cultural revolution (the good one, not the Chinese one).
This brings me to Fitz. After brainwashing Fitz to support Chairman Mao, we get have some questions answered about the Doctor's apparent friendship with this dictator. There were questions that didn't really need to be answered, but it was a nice touch. Plus, being told of some of Mao's ambitions for acquiring the Doctor's time ship is fascinating.
Fitz was pretty sidelined in this book. I don't mean that he wasn't there...he was. In fact much of the story did revolve around him, its just that his contributions were at a minumum. It was nice to see a companion experience true regret and anger for travelling with the Doctor....not the usual 'happy to be time travelling' style of companion we are sued to. Fitz's drug induced battle with Jin Ming was very trippy. The news-reports from around the world covering these after-effects were very well done as well. Then Jin Ming brainwashed Fitz and he went to China to work. I really enjoyed this segment. I don't know much about the cultural revolution in China, or about Chairman Mao, but it seems that from non-Western eyes, Mao was very misunderstood. He was a dictator that really wanted the best for his people, in fact for the whole world. His plan of stealing the TARDIS and going back in time and using Om-Tsor to, in effect, stop all wars and fighting was fascinating.
The best scene in this story is the climax. WOW. I don't mean the drugs, the storms, the missiles...no, I mean Fitz taking a gun and shooting Ed in the head. He panicked, but thought it was right. However, Ed didn't die. The Doctor had to take the gun and shoot Ed himself. That was so powerful and said so much. I have never seen the Doctor use a gun as something other that to hit someone with. The Eighth Doctor is erratic, but not a violent man. And seeing him use a gun to literally execute someone was so powerful. It was completely out of character, but when you are literally seconds from a war that will destroy everyone on the planet, you kind of have to make a decision. It almost makes me think that perhaps this Doctor is much more violent than previous Doctors. Here is my theory: The Doctor is almost always very restrained. He is often edgy, and seems to always keep moving. When he loses patience, he uses the RWS (Repeat Word Syndrome TM). Then, when all options are off, he takes a gun and executes someone...something that no other Doctor did. He couldn't even do it to Davros (Resurrection Of The Daleks). This all implies to me that this Doctor has an inclination to be violent, but is constantly restraining himself. Perhaps we will see more of these traits as the books progress, but after reading all of the EDA's up to now, it really is pointing this to me. Perhaps the Doctor is bipolar...a violent, yet restrained side and an aloof, happy-go--lucky side.
The way that Paul Leonard brought this executioner style to the Doctor was a real treat. This is the first EDA in a long time that the Doctor was really the Doctor and he wasn't just going through the motions. The Doctor had a split second to decide, to save the world, and did what he had to do. It was very emotional, and to be honest I almost couldn't believe it. 'And on the next episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor busts a cap is someone's ass...'
This great piece however was ruined, in my mind, by Sam. She was quite a good character throughout the book, but after this shooting scene was done, she got on her soapbox and started bullying Fitz for making the Doctor murder someone. I mean how hypocritical can you get? Did you forget killing the innocent spiders on Janus Prime? They hurt no one and Sam just killed them. At least Ed was homicidal, taking over people's minds, claiming to be the Messiah, and being bent on world domination/war through an illegal substance that gave him god-like powers. The spiders had more than two legs...wow, what a crime. I just wish Sam would look into the mirror before she starts brandying her high horse on everyone. That was my only complaint with an otherwise excellent novel.
I can't wait to read Paul's next novel. I have been a great fan of his writing from when I read 'Toy Soldiers'. His story telling isn't too verbose, but it gets the job done. His characters are well drawn out, without wasting too much time establishing them, and his narrative paints the picture needed for the scene. I have liked every one of Paul's novels that I have read, and really recommend this one to any Eighth Doctor fan.