I have a theory that I've blundered across the best definition of a Paul Magrs novel (although this one is co-Jeremy Hoad). It's when you get to the end of the book and hear yourself cry- "So what's with the mermaid, then?"
Iris is, of course, back again, and following the event in 'The Scarlet Empress', she's now in her Barbarella incarnation, much to Fitz's enthusiasm. Still slightly ruthless, and flirtatious, but now a bit more ambivalent in her feelings towards the Doctor- or so she claims. Iris' current appearance is one of many 'near-misses' present. The main thrust of the plot (yes, there's a proper plot this time) involves the crew of the Nepotist, a Federation starship (although in this case it's the Federation involved with Peladon) and their confrontation with the tyrannical elephant, Daedelus, not to mention the other races of the Enclave. No, really, it will make sense. Along the way we have the oppressed Glass Men, beings made out of glass, the only organic component being the still beating hearts at the centre. Their only means of transportation are chairs that run on static, so that they can't leave the city. Personally, I'm prepared to bet you just escape them by running upstairs. For those readers a little wary of stepping too far away from twentieth century Earth (although this being DW, that more or less automatically means Britain), there is, of all things, a shopping centre. Quite how Iris knows what's going to happen is never made clear, but it involves giant owls suddenly swooping out of a winter afternoon. And after that, things start getting rather strange
There are also classical images to be found, in the way that Daedelus has a son named Icarus, complete with little wings (the Blue Angel of the title). Also, in the Obverse, a boy is born from a man's leg in a way that recalls Dionysus being born of Zeus.
The Obverse sections of the book seem oddly disconnected from the rest of the book, for all we have Sally the writer and her dog, Canine, as well as versions of Iris, the Doctor, Fitz and Compassion.
Yes, Compassion. One of the Remote, whose fate was believed to be simply a loose end from 'Interference', has been made a companion. And, heaven help us, I actually find myself missing Sam. Compassion seems to have very few characteristics, apart from being rather 'frosty'. A sneering, irritating creature, somebody had better start feeding some more positive vibes into her earpiece.
The Doctor in our universe gets very little to do except to run around after the crew of the Nepotist and various others. In the Obverse, however, he is granted more of a personality than is usual, and while he's mostly engaged mundane tasks like meeting Sally for lunch and visiting his mother (the aforementioned mermaid, which makes her by definition half-human) we can see more of the little quirks seldom glimpsed outside of the original telemovie and the OrmanBlum novels. See? You can animate the Eighth Doctor without recourse to "No no no no no no no no."
Fitz (or like K9, the Mk 2 version) is rather less successful. Although lusting after Iris is perfectly in character, briefing lusting after the Doctor really isn't. I wouldn't mind, but I just know someone's going to pick up on that later, and frankly we've only just got rid of the last irritating crush.
Oh, and a quick word about the ending, lads: The twenty questions format is very clever, but information is also nice, yes?
An imaginative, almost fairy-tale piece that unlike other recent novels does not appear unduly hampered by the story arc. After the epic reach of 'Interference', there's not only a pleasant change of pace, but a genuinely magical experience to be unfolded.
"And who did you say you were, dear? Contrition or something, wasn't it?"
I am a fan of Iris Wildthyme. Red bus in a shopping complex car park? It is like coming home. She appeals to all that is good in human nature - recklessness, audacity, vivacity and, best of all, she can out bitch the bitch. Yes, I am referring to Contrivance. The more I read about "the hamster" (a moniker now fondly adopted in my circles) the more I find that her clinical detachment and lack of warmth has me reaching for a very large, and preferably jagged, sledgehammer. Iris - you know (or don't know) where you are with her. The road may be bumpy, but you have a hell of a lot of fun on the way. The Hamster? Well, I think I see "picking up the signals" becoming a very jaded plot device a few static novels down the line. To be fair, there is plenty of potential for the Hamster to get her wires crossed and become treacherous and even more frosty (unless the Doctor fixes her user-friendly input), but after reading 'The Blue Angel' the Hamster could betray the entire population of the universe and I would still only be able to manage a cursory 'tsk!'
Now... given that this is a story set in Winter...... I couldn't tell you if it was about Winter because, frankly, I am not convinced that it is about anything in the traditional sense of having a plot. Which pleased me no end. You see, I think Paul Magrs is by far the best 8DA author going. Period. Miles is up there but when I read an 8DA and start believing that someone has stuck some LSD in my Evian bottle, I know someone must be dealing. The Blue Angel is part gay fantasy, part Star Trek Parody, part Alan Bennett, part Hindu reflection, and part nonsense. And the real whammy is that Magrs and Hoad get away with it. As you turn the last page and say "Somebody please hand me an aspirin. And a glass of water. I think I have stared at the kaleidoscope too long. All that blue,all those corridors - well....all that blue. Daedalus is an elephant....burble" you know it is going to take a little while to assimilate what has gone on before realising that nothing has gone on that can be explained...boy, is that clever. Pure ideas and thematics disguised by plot. As far as I can work out this novel is less quest and more convergence - numerous Ghillinghast, a lone Valcean, Owls, Big Sue, Maddy, Icarus - all converging on a future that is completely out of control - even the Doctor's control. Even Iris, in not allowing the Doctor to interfere, points to some eventsbigger than the ol TL. This is pure awareness of a bigger picture. If only we knew what this big picture was. Or had a hint. Maybe two.....
Is this arc called "Deconstructing the Doctor?" If so I pity the poor Cornell who, presumably, has to tie this all up together. The implication in one of the narrative strands is that in real time the adventures of the Doctor are nothing more than flights of fancy in an odd eccentric, or two's, imagination. Fitz and the Hamster are just dossers living with him in England (why does Norwich spring to mind?). Perhaps, as Iris alludes, the Eighth Doctor was placed in this world of glib reality to protect him from the future, or his future, and that this is no more real than the fantasy that continually unfolds elsewhere. I say this because the world of Big Sue and Maddy is so well crafted, the idiosynchrasies of the old are poignantly captured and portrayed almost as if Thora Hird was looking in and giving the thumbs up that there must be something skew about the Doctor's alternative reality where Canine(sic) talks to Fitz, the Doctor technically gives birth, and his mother is a mermaid....is it all tied to the continual manipulations of the Faction Paradox? God knows.
The Star Trek parody is clever in that it shows a linearity in traditional sci-fi that is almost cliched by its repetition in each new (referred to) adventure. This bolsters the view of the deconstructed Doctor by making this strand from the same genre so much more complex and intelligent. Doubtless this view will not please Trekkers, nor will the wannabe Kirk's (Blandish - sic) concealed homosexuality. But I have never been a big fan of Star Trek. I do not care. Gene Roddenberry is not God. Daedalus might be.
Away from the big picture, the small events are equally as powerful. There is a chapter where the Doctor is compared to some yellow maggot eggs on a flower, or to be precise, the flowers particular form of camoflage (which is one of the same). This chapter is exceptional in its craftmanship and for what it adds to the small event that is the Doctor. It is by far the most literary passage - much less Wizard of Oz, more nineties Thomas Hardy. And this is much more of a literary 8DA. In jokes and sharp references to forms of literature that show a real flair for the extraordinary. Canonicity is also bulldozed by discussion. At the same time Chapter Thirty-Five's wishful-thinking title for Fitz is pure sexual innuendo. A universe with Iris and Fitz as her travelling companion is a dream team combination (so it will probably never happen). Glad to see that that after his traumatic time in Interference, Fitz has had his libido juiced up. Or maybe that is just the allure of Iris.
For completely different reasons, I found Icarus/Ian a strong allure in the novel. But then this enthusiasm should be tempered by my pecadillo for angel boys (post 18, I hasten to add). I was almost envious of Maddy wandering into a cave and finding the Enclave/Obverse refugee. Soft porn - nah, but we can but dream of such visitations. I also enjoyed Belinda. Not in the same way, of course, but what can you do? Of course, there is a method in my madness. I am desperately-seeking-alternative-to-the-Hamster. Belinda in her harrassed, go with the flow, scared shitless reaction to this weird final voyage is reaction by reaction how we would all collapse given the reality check of seeing Glass Men and a George Sanders meglomaniac Elephant. Naturally, given that I wanted to see more of her, adopt her, see how she played off Fitz the authors went and did something to make her a bit of a handful in the ongoing character stakes. So it looks like I am squidged.
There is something in there about flying too close to the sun. How some goals are greater than the means which you have to achieve them. And rebirth. And self belief coupled with self doubt. Of ego and reality. This may be the Doctor. It may not be. There are twenty questions at the end of the novel which, if you ask me, is a bit of an underestimate in the query stakes. In the Scarlet Empress (which Fitz catches up on..) there was a requirement for an end. That this end was the equivalent to an awful lot of jam being spread about the room means we could have done without it. In The Blue Angel we are not given an end, but an improvisation, a tail off - it is completely devoid of explanation or purpose. And, to be honest, it is all the more beautiful because of it. Die-hard fans will probably respect this as a curio, but they will hate the canon-kicking. Yet, whilst I have spent most of this review avoiding the one word that will be used endlessly to pigeon-hole this book, I really believe that suddenly something magic has hit the 8DA world.
I have to start by saying the I really enjoyed The Scarlet Empress. It was a refreshing bit of fantasy amidst some mediocre works. It pushed the boundaries of what is excepted from a Dr. Who novel. Blue Angel pushes the boundaries further and ends up....... nowhere. It goes nowhere and is about nothing, and I wasn't satisfied with it as Naomi Claydon and Edward Funnell were.
The main problem is that Paul Magrs is enamored with Iris (who I do have to admit is a great character) and lets her completely supplant the Doctor. She and Daedalus both encounter the Doctor with foreknowledge of his (possible?) future having already encountered a future regeneration (Which has been done enough. For once I'd like to see an adventure in which the Doctor has prejudices against the antagonist because it's the second (or whatever) confrontation with this person for The Doctor, but the first for the antagonist. It would be interesting to see the Doctor worrying about how he can thwart the antagonist without disrupting what he knows needs to happen for their previous encounter.)
The plot involves Iris sabotaging the Doctor supposedly for his future good while other innuendoes are made that she maybe in league with Daedalus. The result is the genocide of an entire race and an impotent Doctor, who can't get anything achieved. Which might not be a problem if I'm looking to buy a book about Iris Wyldtime that just happens to have the Doctor in it. I wasn't. I wanted a book about the Doctor that just happened to have Iris in it.
In my opinion, Blue Angel needs a third book to succeed. Some explanations need to be made. What was Iris trying to protect the Doctor from? Does she succeed? Does it make things worse? How does it color their relationship from here on out? The other problems were ones of characterization. The Doctor constantly theorizes and thinks about "modifying" Compassion to make her a better person, the person he thinks she should be. If he didn't like her, he should have left her alone after Interference. This smacks of the Seventh Doctor's manipulative nature, though I think it goes further than he would have gone. The "this person needs fixing, and it's my job to do it" patronizing attitude was one of Sam's character traits, not the Doctor's.
Also, as sympathetic and sensitive as this incarnation of the Doctor has been portrayed, the fact that Iris allows genocide and murder "to protect" the Doctor, should have hit the Doctor like a sledge hammer in the gut. A better novel would have this happen at the outset and show the Doctor struggling to come to turns with her actions, the guilt he feels at being their impetus, and desperately trying to make it better somehow. Instead he sulks off into the sunset, which is why I feel the need for another book to clean-up the mess.
I feel the book did one thing right: The novels have shown the Doctors' personalities to be more of a reflection of their predecessor's personalities. Magrs and Hoad did give us a window in how the Doctor should be portrayed for the rest of the current story arc at least: A spontaneous, sensitive Doctor who can't save the millions at the cost of five, he must save the millions and the five. Unable to make the cold, hard decisions that the Seventh Doctor was, he worries that as the dangers increase, if he can still do the job within the confines of his stricter moral code.
In brief: This is like a gourmet dish. Not to everyone's tastes, certainly, but a sumptuous delight if you're in the right mood for it.
"No more episodes for me!
But even then there's a kind of implied adventure, isn't there? And it would be about how I inveigle myself back into the functions of story. How I break out of a crippling stasis. And I can see it all now.
But - horrors - the thought of this forever.
Me, merely gracing an endless title sequence.
As if archived, canonised. A dead Cultural Artefact in a museum of flotsam, jetsam, trash. Unreinventable.
Stories all ravelled up and done with. As if novelty were the key! And I were not free just to rewrite, remake, replay, repeat! Ha!
Gracing an endless title theme, though - end credits, title sequence - never to impeach again.
to accuse of a crime
to challenge or question
Safe for ever! What if that's how I've ended up?" (pages 227-228)
Following up Interference is no easy task. That book was huge and the ripples coming out from it are enough to change the EDAs forever. The two previous 'important' books (Alien Bodies and Seeing I) were both followed up by woefully inadequate tales that effectively hit the reset button, ensuring that the line as a whole stayed in the range of mediocre-at-best. The Blue Angel is a very, very different book to Interference, but it actually keeps the momentum going and deals with a number of repercussions. It can't, and shouldn't, deal with them all, but it provides a very adequate follow-up.
The most important aspect is the Doctor's recuperation. He's suffered a blow that he can't quite define, so he needs a similar method of recovery. The stuff with the mermaid mother and his personal physician and Sally's dream seems to be way out-there... except that it's written in a haunting, creepy manner that feels far more real than the rest of the novel. There are hints here that this might be the 'true' reality and the exciting adventure series might be a dream (and of course, there's no way to disprove that!) I love the sense we get that the events from Interference have truly disturbed the Doctor... even more so because the creepiness comes not so much from what happens, but just the language and tone used. OTOH, we have a perfectly simple explanation for all of this within the book itself. I like Magrs' style: he always leaves enough for the reader who wants to take things literally to do so, but he makes it clear that there's a lot more interesting stuff to be had than simple linear plotting and storytelling.
The other sections, complete with their lame Star Trek parody, are written in a playful, mocking style that keeps telling you not to take the whole thing too seriously. The Glass Men seem like they might be alternate universe Daleks, but they're nothing so mundane. Their descriptions alter like fluid, depending on your perspective. The reference to Planet of the Spiders is very welcome. I suspect that the Star Trekky stuff was Jeremy's and the recuperation was Paul's, but I wouldn't swear to it.
Fitz isn't given terribly much to do. There's a lot of mileage in his post-Interference identity, but we don't scratch the surface. Compassion also seems rather characterless, although this is a bit more devious. It's a shame we don't learn much about her here, or have a sense of who she is, but it's possible that her joining surprised the authors as much as it did the readers.
Iris is quite fun. I like her Barbarella persona a lot more than her previous one (although I'd come to enjoy that too, by the end of TSE). She's only had a couple of previous appearances (one novel and one short story), but already she's one of the great recurring characters of the BBC books. Definitely a love-her-or-hate-her character, she's got a depth that's just plain absent in most supporting characters. I think this has to do with Magrs having used her elsewhere, so he's much more aware of what makes her tick by now. This is my theory on why the Doctor and companions work reasonably well in these books, where the original characters never do: they've simply got a lot of history behind them, so the authors have seen what's been done and had time to think about consequences and where they could take these characters (as well as being better equipped to know what they'd say etc). Iris is definitely more fun in this persona - although paradoxically her motives are less focussed on her infatuation with the Doctor now. Her status as 'defender of the Obverse' helps a lot to make her heroic. It's a bit of a shame that she replaces the Doctor in this role, but what do you expect from a story with Paul Magrs' name on it?
The Doctor in the Star Trek plot seems like he's running along fine. It builds towards an interesting climax... but then he's taken out of time by Iris because his interfering would cause more harm than good. This is a bit too Mindwarpy for me. It's a nice idea in many ways (although it's the sort of thing you can only do once), but it comes too close to a) Interference's similar theme of the Doctor being inadequately equipped to deal with the real world and b) all the other EDAs and their habitual sidelining of the useless eighth Doctor. However, the twenty questions go a long way to redeeming it. Ultimately, it's just funny, which helps a great deal. Well, I laughed, anyway.
The book has things to say about storytelling conventions, continuity and post-modernism. The lack of ending has no real effect on the continuing adventures of the Doctor (or at least, any way in which it does is dealt with in The Shadows of Avalon) or even Iris, so it's 'only' the original characters who are affected by this. And given that we plow through two of these books a month, rarely to return, I think Magrs and Hoad are asking us just how important (or not) some of the traditional story-telling techniques are to us. Does it really matter to us what happens to a bunch of faceless nobodies we'll never see again anyway? Even if you accept that DW is really fiction, surely the Doctor and companions (and maybe recurring characters and villains) are on a higher 'reality' level than the supporting cast. Does it make any difference whatsoever to the continuing story of Doctor Who what the answers to those twenty questions are?
The Star Trek parody, on the other hand, is just lame. Anyone could have written this, IMO, and written it a lot better indeed. Now, I don't have degrees in literature, so maybe I'm not getting it on as deep a level as I'm meant to, so maybe the authors are having a go at fan-fiction (the bit about the captain and his alien officer being lovers seems a bit of a signal there), but it's neither good enough to be entertaining nor over-the-top enough to be amusing parody. I'm sure I'm missing something here and this was deliberately written in as lame a manner as possible, but that still doesn't make for either entertaining or informative reading. In truth, it seems a lot like the authors have just been lazy, but have dressed everything up so that any criticisms can be dismissed with 'Oh, it's High Literature. I wouldn't expect you potato-eaters to understand.' (The much better Tomorrow People stuff in Verdigris lends credence to this theory)
OTOH, it does avoid some of the more obvious Star Trek jokes (there's nothing about red shirts, for example) and Belinda has some welcome depth. Sadly, even if there's a great reason behind it, the parody is still not much fun to read. I realise that entertaining the reader isn't necessarily one of Magrs priorities, but it's not particularly clever or original, as far as I can see.
The first part of the book -- rarely for a Doctor Who novel -- is surprisingly entertaining and means that the book gets off to a great start. The old ladies are great and the owl attack is surprisingly scary. There's a vividness here that's extremely welcome. I flew through this book, which made a really nice change from the worthy slog that was The Scarlet Empress.
Daedalus is a bit too ranting to be interesting. There are some hints that he might be a future Doctor, but by this point I'm well and truly bored with that particular cliche, so I'm choosing to ignore the hints. The angel himself doesn't really add much, but that doesn't seem to matter.
The back cover blurb must be the shortest in history (Autumn Mist tried hard, but this beats it). And yet, the layout makes it look like poetry. Page 113 is perhaps the most striking and eloquent description of the Doctor I've ever read. I think Paul Magrs is one of the few people to realise just how much potential our little series actually has -- and he never once underestimates our intelligence.
Ultimately, while The Blue Angel has a lot to say to us about the series, continuity, our interpretation of fiction and the conventions of telling a standalone story as part of a broader tale, it's actually lots of fun. It's playful and gentle and doesn't scare us off (no, really!) The Star Trek parody is the only major fault, but since most of us have survived fanfic, we can survive this. It could be a touch more amusing in a few places and give some of the characters more to do, but it's an astonishing book in many ways. It's lyrical, poetic and gorgeously written in places. I can understand why some people don't like it, but I think it's truly something to be savoured. I like it a lot.
And its mission: to explore brave new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to bold rip-off where Gene Roddenberry had already gone before....
Star Trek....the evil thorn in my side. My largest fear with the 8DAs is that they were becoming too much like Star Trek novels...science fiction fast food. Just pumped out with the franchise logo, packaged, and sent out to fans who would pay for anything.
Not only did Paul Magrs and Jeremy Hoad turn Doctor Who into Star Trek, they were sitting on their porch, drinking lemonade, and pointing and laughing at me as I sped by on my new bright pink tricycle, on my way to the store to buy their book.
But was it bad? No, of course not. The whole book seemed to be one huge satire on Star Trek. From naming the Enterprise the Nepotist (brilliant!) to having an almost exact copy of the crew, from the crew screwing up everything they touch, but somehow manage to be made to look 'right'.
The Blue Angel is a fun book, once you get by the fact it isn't a Doctor Who book at all. In fact, the Doctor doesn't really do a bloody thing throughout. He had one good shouting match with Compassion, but otherwise did very little. Iris did almost everything 'Time Lord'-ish, but still she didn't really do much. In fact, most of the damage that was caused was something that Iris caused before the narrative occurred. I don't like this new Iris. I preferred the over-weight super bitch that we enjoyed in The Scarlet Empress. But with Time Lords, no persona is permanent for long.
Fitz growing crush on Iris was nice to see...especially when Iris kissed Fitz and told him not to tell the Doctor. Unfortunately he does very little throughout. The same with Compassion for that matter. It seems that the TARDIS crew are just there for show.
Well...the adventure itself: It was okay, although rather straight forward. Daedalus, a screaming elephant, manipulates various groups to wage war on each other. Nothing original, and nothing particularly shining.
We are introduced to a new universe called the 'Obverse'. The Doctor becomes obsessed with learning about this new realm. When Daedalus justifies his arranging so that the Glass Men are wiped out, the Doctor decides his need to visit this universe. Daedalus claims they will become like the Daleks, and that in many ways Daedalus was very like the Doctor. I really enjoyed that.
The Ghillinghast worshipping lice and Belinda turning into a squid; the wonders of a good polymorph spell. I swear that Paul must have extensively played Dungeons And Dragons. It really shows in The Scarlet Empress but still comes through here with a semi-magical realm. What made this book special for me was the care taken to properly paint the picture of the City Of Glass, the Corridors and the physical descriptions of the Glass Men themselves.
I found the Obverse vignettes annoying to be honest. Sure we get versions of the Doctor, Iris, Fitz, Compassion and the Doctor's mother, Sally and Canine, but it was just too disjointed. The implication that the Obverse is just another twisted version of this universe was covered quite well in Inferno, thank you.
Every scene in which the giant owls attacked were haunting and very gripping. This is the kind of fear that the 8DA's need to really keep us on the edge of our seats (figuratively of course).
The Blue Angel was a fun read, there is no doubt about that. I feel that the Enterprise (Nepotist) really hurt the novel, almost as much as the Doctor doing two things in this novel...jack and sh*t. And its too bad really. Paul is an excellent writer, and so is Jeremy. They created a beautiful City Of Glass, with some very interesting races, wonderful imagery, and many more new questions added to the fray.
After reading some of the reviews that the pioneers before had laid out, I don't see in The Blue Angel what they saw. It was a fun novel, but to be honest, inconsequential because of an impotent Doctor. Perhaps, if more of the Obverse is explored, and more explanations are given, I can enjoy this book a lot more. But until then...
The Blue Angel blew me away, in the worst possible fashion. I've read it, re-read it, and ploughed through it again...and each time, I find smaller and smaller pieces of information that completely alter the overall meaning of the text. Magrs and Hoad are playing some serious head games here. In literary-theoretical terms, Rumours of the Death of the Author have been greatly exaggerated.
There are more layers to "The Blue Angel" than the proverbial onion. Or ogre. Or whatever passes for either in the Obverse. I laughed countless times when I read this book. I got quite sentimental at the end (page 275 is poetic, in the best sense of the word), and I threw it across the room at least a half-dozen times. What better praise can there be?
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Here, it's downright bloody lethal. Much comment has been made by reviewers of "The Blue Angel's" dense web of allusion, its incorporation of vast chunks of Who-lore and bits and pieces of a dazzling array of high- and low-culture texts. More than anything, this book reminds me of Ovid's Metamorphoses: a virtuoso reworking of timeless legend into a witty, sophisticated, but ultimately impenetrable text. Belinda's transformation into a squid and Dedalus's current incarnation (if that is the right word?) as an elephant are strongly reminiscent of Scylla's metamorphosis into a sea-monster girt with drooling hounds, or Narcissus's becoming a flower while falling in love with his own reflection. We even have Icarus/Pentheus ripped apart by "the Bacchae". And, as befits a (possible) reworking of classical myth, there are loads of gay subtexts. This is Lawrence Miles reRonald Firbank.
While what I've just written may very well be an almighty wank, it kind of fits. Let's face it..."The Blue Angel" is itself a colossal piece of self-abuse. Or it would be if the authors didn't play an elaborate come-on game with the reader. We are asked to accept more and more off-the-wall ideas, more and more unlikeable (or just plain incomprehensible) characters and plot developments, and as for the Doctor's supposed East European, Louise Brooks-lookalike mermaid mother...
Either everything in "The Blue Angel" is a red herring, or none of it is. The quote about the book being "a story about Winter," for instance, is either an allusion to Shakespeare's play "The Winter's Tale," or a frustratingly obscure metaphor. Given that "The Winter's Tale" is a romance play based around exile, loss, family reunions and places which don't exist (the "coasts of Bohemia" to be exact), the former explanation makes more sense. Except that for these broad themes, there really are no further points of intersection between Magrs and Hoad and Shakespeare. Or maybe they meant Wallace Stevens and not Shakespeare?
The actual plot of "The Blue Angel" is a paint-by-numbers Who scenario: intergalactic tyrant ensconced in suitably baroque setting plots an interdimensional incident while the Doctor attempts to stop him, ably assisted by some convenient assistants/cannon fodder. The off-the-wall parts involve the involvement of Iris Wildthyme, and the way the book plays on our preconceptions and expectations, and blows them apart in spectacular fashion.
The Glass Men of Valcea and their city, for instance, are a flat-out reworking of Terry Nation's original Daleks: mobility-challenged, timorous, and utterly dependant on static electricity. They even have an organic core, not quite a "living, bubbling lump of hate" but the potential, it is hinted, is there. Their king, Dedalus, is a bit trickier to figure...he aspires to be a "man with many enemies," a la the Doctor, but has been rendered sort-of hard to take seriously by the fact that he has been transformed into a Large Green Elephant. I suppose a pink one would have been pushing it, but Who baddies are not usually pachyderms. (Niven and Pournelle's Footfall has evil extraterrestrial elephants, but only Magrs and Hoad have been brave enough, it seems, to continue in this vein. (Cuddly animals don't make good villains...imagine "Planet of the Spiders" had the Great One been a gigantic, murderous koala bent on universal domination).
Things really get moving with the arrival of the Starship Nepotist and its Federation crew. While this element of the story has generated some controversy, I think the satire of the Star Trek Mark 1 series was entirely justified. Anyone conversant with Leonard Nimoy's memoirs, for instance, would know that sexual fantasising about the main characters forms a substantial portion of Star Trek fan fiction. (And the same applies to Who fanfic also, especially when Peri Brown joins the party).
The whole over-the-top machismo of Captain Kirk gets a well-deserved razzing, as does the whole Roddenberry ethos of non-confrontation, Prime Directives, and so on. The marginalised ramifications and subtexts of Star Trek are foregrounded here with great wit and panache. After reading "The Blue Angel," you'll never watch "Amok Time" in quite the same way again.
"Amok Time" was written, but the way, by the late US sci-fi novelist Theodore Sturgeon. Along with Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, and so on, Sturgeon was one of the gods of '60s Science Fantasy. His novel More than Human has not a few themes in common with "The Blue Angel"...family, reality, identity, selfhood, and various other niggling concerns. "The Blue Angel" fits neatly into the Science Fantasy mode. It doesn't have the epic, overloaded quality of "Interference" or the physics tutorial-with-the-Terminator feel of "Taking of Planet 5," but "The Blue Angel" has the manic, kinetic, quality of the work of Sturgeon, or contemporaries such as AE van Vogt or Alfred Bester. And that's why I like it. There's a mercifully scant level of (extra-mural) continuity, although the nudge-nudge stuff about Iris Wildthyme left me a little cold. I can see what Magrs and Hoad are trying to do here: setting up Iris as a campy alternative-Doctor while marginalising the real thing. The Doctor is still very much up for grabs as a character at this stage, although Chapter 34 gives us a fair idea that all the existential angst is there for a (plot arc) reason. Doctor-wise, things get better from here.
"The Blue Angel" proves convincingly that Doctor Who, as an ongoing franchise, is strong enough to take the occasional genuinely innovative instalment. Surely this is preferable to writers sticking to tired old formulae and treating continuity as Holy Writ (as in the various rehashes of Dalek/"Five Doctors" cliche in the 8DAs). As an intellectual experience, "The Blue Angel" is quite fascinating. It is not so much an action-adventure as a commentary on that genre, and taken on these terms "The Blue Angel" is one of the best three or four 8DAs to date. Yes, it's sometimes frustrating, it doesn't make sense the first time you read it (and it makes less sense the more you read it). As a strikingly bold entry in an increasingly experimental Who canon, however, this book is a success on all fronts.