The EDAs progress ever onward with ‘The Bodysnatchers’, the third book in the range. By now, it is pretty much clear that the range is not making any real attempt to appeal to an audience which has only Doctor Who: The TV Movie’ to go on as far as knowledge of ‘Doctor Who’ goes. Instead, the range appeals to those who are fans of the twenty-six years of television programmes that occurred before the aforementioned TV Movie. This fact was clear for all to see with ‘The Eight Doctors’ and all its links to the past, was hinted at with ‘Vampire Science’ and its use of UNIT and is made once more as clear as bells with ‘The Bodysnatchers’ and its use of both Zygons from ‘Terror Of The Zygons’ and Professor Litefoot from ‘The Talons Of Weng-Chiang’. By drawing elements from two of the best-regarded stories from the Tom Baker era, writer Mark Morris simultaneously delivers himself both a winning formula, and an uphill struggle to pull it off. On the whole, he very nearly succeeds.
The plot of ‘The Bodysnatchers’ is fairly simple (The Zygons are body snatching, The Doctor gets involved, the Zygons are defeated, people die, people mourn their deaths, but all is relatively nice at the end) and certainly does not strike out as being original. The prose is well written and the pacing does the content of the novel justice; again, there is nothing groundbreaking here but as it is there is nothing wrong with it.
Morris’ use of the Zygons is very good, building on what was established in ‘Terror Of The Zygons’ and giving some rather nice background details to their species as a whole. Arguably unusually, the Zygons themselves are allowed as much character development as the human characters in the novel, so far from being just another race of alien looking aliens with domination in mind, they are given motives for doing what it is they do.
Alongside the Zygons, supporting characters such as Albert Rudge and Jack Howe are given room to become more than merely two-dimensional people in the background. True, they fall into the old stereotype of ‘chalk-and-cheese duo’, but these stereotypes are written pleasantly enough to be enjoyed.
Unfortunately, it is with the three ‘heroes’ of the novel- The Doctor, Sam and Litefoot- that the writing is the weakest. Whilst Litefoot is written pleasantly enough, and is certainly like he was on screen, one couldn’t help but feel that it could have been any character in the book, and not necessarily that of Litefoot; his substitution would have been easy and it is a pity that this is so.
Sam remains as much of a non-entity as she was in ‘Vampire Science’; I appreciate what the authors are trying to do- give us a character who is vaguely normal and not unrealistically outlandish. However, Sam finding herself emotionally traumatised or angry is simply irritating and the character suffers as a result.
The Doctor here is more akin to a skit on pervious incarnations than as a fully fleshed Doctor of his own; all the efforts towards definition in ‘Vampire Science’ seem to have been largely ignored and instead there is a potentially interesting but heavily underdeveloped Time Lord heading the proceedings.
In all, ‘The Bodysnatchers’ is a bit of a non-event. It is certainly not a bad book, and some of the characters are well written, but on the whole it is largely unmemorable, which is odd. There is everything here to make for a great novel: a good setting, strong supporting characters, a knowing nod to a much loved character from the TV series, the return of an alien race which was very popular. However, whilst these elements all gel together, they do so in a fairly unimaginative way, where readable and fairly exciting things occur, but there is nothing so great as to make you want to tell everybody about it. It is a pity that this has happened; this novel is not terrible, but it certainly falls under the category of ‘wasted opportunity’.
I call to the stand The Bodysnatchers to defend its heinous crimes against humanity or rather Doctor Who fiction in particular. To this end I have rounded up two generic Doctor Who fans to prosecute the novel in question and one insane member of the human race to defend the book, the most emotional of reviewers, Joe Ford.
Generic fan number one: It is clear that this is an inferior piece of work especially when compared to the Virgin New Adventures which dished out more complex and rich works than this. The comparison between BBC books and Virgin was never more obvious as this is only three books into the BBC’s reign and one of those books was The Eight Doctors. Virgin had created a fabulous new universe to tell interesting and diverse stories in with a regular cast that was growing all the time; their interpretation of the future was the springboard for some fascinating adventures taking the series in new directions it had not explored before. To return to this sort of storytelling, Zygons in Victorian London is so annoyingly retro and series seems to want to forget all the good work Virgin has done to enhance the Doctor Who universe.
Joe: Hmm, well I’m not quite sure that I buy this argument, an argument incidentally that I heard quite a bit during the opening stages of the BBC Eighth Doctor adventures. For a start you have to remember that Virgin’s third New Adventure was Timewyrm: Apocalypse which was such an inept novel that Revelation seems to have been considered as some sort of masterpiece simply because it is a better piece of fiction. The Bodysnatchers quite clearly never plummets to the depth of the early Virgin adventures. And for some the heavy interlinking themes, characters and ideas that made up the Virgin adventures were thier biggest failing and not their biggest strength. The joy of Doctor Who was its diversity and the sheer number of stories told within its ‘future history’ setting diminished that strength and left each subsequent just a further exploration of something already told rather than a story in its own right. The joy of these early BBC adventures is their diversity and simplicity. It is quite wonderful to be fighting Vampires in modern day America one month and fighting Zygons in Victorian London that next. There is a real feeling that each book stands up on its own strengths rather than having the back-story of many combined novels to give it a boost. Admittedly Virgin were telling more emotional stories than the BBC at this point but to be perfectly frank a pulpy horror tale like this is far more what I consider to be Doctor Who than novels such as So Vile a Sin and Damaged Goods, fantastic works to be sure but Doctor Who…only just.
Generic fan two: What a load of old cods wallop! I am behind generic fan one all the way; what we needed was arcs. ARCS! ARCS! ARCS! ARCS! Just like what Virgin gave us! Interconnected stories with a running theme and lots of character exploration! None of this hodge podge collection of old Doctor Who stories shoved together with little thought or characterisation. Arcs are the way to go!
Joe: Another old argument and one that has come full circle in the seven odd years since The Bodysnatchers was published. Nobody wanted self-contained adventures at the time, not after Virgin had shown us the way to go with clever arcs with stories that build on top of each other to create a dramatic crescendo. So what did we get? The Sam is missing arc. The Compassion arc. The Caught on Earth arc. The Sabbath arc. Arc after arc after arc! And people got more and more sick of them. And guess what they are now rallying for? More self-contained adventures! Honestly I just don’t think fandom knows when it is better off! If you take a look at The Deadstone Memorial, clearly a superior book to The Bodysnatchers (with seven years worth of material for Trevor Baxendale to wade through to see what works and what doesn’t in Doctor Who fiction) but essentially they are exactly the same thing, a domestic horror tale with the eighth Doctor that features aliens under the Earth that want to go home. It is merely how fandom tastes that have changed that sees The Bodysnatchers at the bottom of the book polls and The Deadstone Memorial close to the top.
Generic fan one: Yeah but try and defend the outcry against the eighth Doctor and Sam, whichever way you look backwards to the Virgin adventures or forwards to the later BBC adventures there has never been a Doctor and companion that has been THIS unpopular (with good reason).
Joe: Here I have to agree. Sam Jones was the most generic companion ever invented. It is interesting to note that early scenes in The Bodysnatchers play like the early scenes of The Unquiet Dead of RTD’s new television Doctor Who series with Sam/Rose getting dressed and ready to explore the Victorian era. However the difference between the two characters is obvious from the outset. Whereas it is easy to empathise with Rose who is excited and caught up with the wonder of travelling back in time, Sam is this know-it-all street wise kid who has seen it all before and thinks she can handle anything. Rose is in awe, Sam is pretty bored. And lets face it; nobody likes a smug bitch like that.
However there is something to be said about how Mark Morris portrays the eighth Doctor here with the very common theme of him improvising his adventures and making some terrible mistakes. It is a particular contrast to the seventh Doctor who as Time’s Champion had his adventures sewn up before they began; this Doctor was fallible and not half as clever as he thought. Perhaps it belittled his character somewhat but it certainly compliments his half human status established in the TV Movie. His simple childlike joy at meeting up with Professor Litefoot and having an ‘old style’ adventure is wonderful, almost as if all the emotional drama his previous incarnation went through is over and now it is time to get back to some good old fashioned fun! And whilst his goofiness and joi de vivre would be heavily criticized in subsequent years it is fascinating to note that once his adventures got bogged down in drama and emotions what was it the fans wanted…a lighter hearted, amiable Doctor! Gah, looking at this objectively we have finished the eighth Doctor’s adventures in exactly the same place as we started them!
Generic fan two: You are merely arguing statistics, as usual in your silly reviews. You have not discussed The Bodysnatchers in any depth at all, merely compared it to other, superior works! What about the clichéd plot? The flat characters? The obvious setting?
Joe: I was merely putting the book in perspective, correlating fan opinion at the time and fan opinion now. I find you can discover much about the potential of a book and the impression it makes by comparing it to other works and taking into consideration fan reaction. But if it’s a detailed review you want, fine.
The truth of the matter is this is a simple, pulpy horror tale, the sort of comfortable horror Doctor Who excelled at on the televison. It has no hidden agenda and doesn’t want to be about anything, Mark Morris simply wants the reader to enjoy a corking adventure. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, Terrance Dicks has been fulfilling this particular function for fandom for years.
Perhaps the BBC were flirting their ability to capitalise on the TV series in their early books and as a sequel to two Tom Baker stories this has its work cut out for it. Anybody expecting another Talons of Weng-Chiang or Terror of the Zygons is bound to be disappointed though as Morris steals creations from these tales and plants them into an adventure of his own making, not just a rip off. And to be fair he utilises both Litefoot and the Zygons rather well, the former afforded another exciting adventure in his later years after returning to his drab life after the Weng-Chiang affair and the latter is treated to some interesting background information far beyond the surface characterisation of their debut. We find out about the Zygon class system, genders, scientific community, their ships, the Skarasen, the war that saw them seek an alternative home…they are hardly the most deep of monsters but Morris uses their reappearance to answer all the questions the TV series forgot to ask.
What’s more this actually quite a well written book. I am not talking about the plot, which is a bit on thin side, but the actual prose, which manages to conjour up the grislier aspects of Victorian London with some expertly spun clichés (foggy streets, bodysnatching, the smell of dung…). Whilst this clearly aimed at a younger audience than even Vampire Science there is nothing at all wrong with the descriptive prose here and in places it is quite inspired. Even Morris’ later Deep Blue, which I loathed because of its predictable plot and terrible characters, was slightly redeemed by his expert ability to turn a descriptive phrase. I am probably not at my most objective because I love any set during the Victorian times, especially stories that concentrate on the nastier side of their culture so I was bound to get sucked into this sort of thing.
Equally fun is the number of fun twists that Morris peppers his book with, namely the unmasking of Emmeline as a Zygon, the brilliant time looping of Tuval and of course the final shocking mistake of the Doctor’s, practically wiping out the Zygon species. Morris gets you nice and comfortable with his relaxing adventuring and these moments make more of an impression than they would in a novel with a more aggressive tone.
This is not deep or clever; it is simply a big dollop of Doctor Who fun. If you want arcs and intelligence and drama go and read Interference.
Generic fan one: Hmph, I think I go and do that. At least that novel bothers to screw around with Doctor Who’s TV history so it is IMPORTANT. IT MEANS SOMETHING.
Generic fan two: I’m off to Transit, it might be a load of old pants but at least it contains sex and swearing and violence like proper (Virgin) Doctor Who.
Verdict: The Bodysnatchers is fluffy and harmless and is a worthy addition to any Doctor Who fans collection. It may take time but try and read the entire Virgin and BBC lines in preparation for this novel, it certainly gives you a much broader perspective and it certainly made me appreciate it much more than I did when I first read it.
THIS ENTIRE REVIEW HAS TAKEN PLACE IN JOE FORD’S HEAD. IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT HE IS SCIZOPHRENIC AND HE IS NOW OFF TO THE LOCAL PSYCH WARD FOR A VERY, VERY LONG TIME.
The Bodysnatchers is a plain, straightforward piece of work. Hardly a glittering classic, but a fairly neat piece which provides some mostly harmless entertainment. I've just re-read it alongside Mark Morris's other work, the PDA "Deep Blue", and it's far preferable to that tome. "The Bodysnatchers" was published in 1997, and went through two printings in a year. Pretty impressive stuff, and I suspect largely to do with the excellent front cover, in which a Zygon is displayed prominently. Does the book live up to the promise of its praiseworthy binding? Unlike the similarly nostalgic War of the Daleks, the answer is "kind of".
There are numerous features common to both works--the aquatic motif, the thoroughly conventional "body horror" plot, and the redeployment of fondly remembered past characters (Weng-Chiang's Professor Litefoot in this instance). Both books are pretty big on the blood'n'guts, and culminate with a bloody rampage by slavering amphibious alien beasties let loose from a submerged spaceship. "Deep Blue" is, however, a fairly tired effort, and a summary (in a way) of the inherent problems that have beset the majority of PDAs. It doesn't say much, doesn't do much, and just drags out a few stock characters and sets them loose in a predictable plot, which gives not a few dead horses a vigorous flogging. "The Bodysnatchers" could also be said to lay a few hefty thwacks on Trigger, but there is somehow more material of interest here.
The plot is, as I have stated, thoroughly conventional. Weird things happen in an opening "teaser" which involves a hapless minor character blundering over horrific happenings. Enter the Doctor, who flounders around assisted by Sam and Litefoot, and snatches victory from the cybernetically-modified jaws of defeat via the mouldy old tactic of bundling the baddies onto the TARDIS and shipping them off to a suitably uninhabited world. This is pretty familiar stuff. Where this book scores, however, is its sensible use of a popular race of "monsters," and its vivid recreation of London in 1894.
The big villains of the piece, the Zygons, are given some extra background. We learn that they are naturally a white, blobby, foetal Mr. Stay-Puft species, with only selected specimens sterilised to become the familiar suckered, high-domed warrior class. Zygon history is deepened too, with some retcon about their homeworld being destroyed by the Xaranti (a race of giant carnivorous spider crabs led by a giant booger who feature, in profoundly underwhelming fashion, in "Deep Blue"). The Zygon characters are drawn in primary colours, so to speak: there's a nasty warrior (Balaak, the leader) who meets a sticky end, and a nice scientist (Tuval) who ends up being "dropped off" on a suitable world and gets to be "a grandfather sixty times over". We also get a whole army of immature Skarasen (Skarasens?) chomping their way down the Thames, in a scene that would be the latest in the line of classic "Who" "monster rampage" moments if it were included in a filmed series. (Any ideas fo! r some more? "Spearhead from Space" episode four is still the benchmark here). In any case, the Skarasens on the loose in "Bodysnatchers" almost make up for the silly CSO glove puppet in "Terror of the Zygons". That about sums up this book: nice scenes, bland chapters.
Local colour (also a prominent feature of "Terror of the Zygons," and a big plus in "Deep Blue" also) is captured well here. All the stereotypical "Victorian London" shadows-and-gaslight elements are on display, following closely such definitive period pieces as "Weng-Chiang" and Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" (dramatised by the BBC at the time "The Bodysnatchers" was written, as I recall). There's also a touch of "Ghost Light," in the characters of Nathaniel Seers and his daughter Emmeline. Most other humans are in the story as Skarasen-fodder. The Zygon ship's environment is also conveyed vividly. ("Nodules and protuberances" that all smell like tripe. Enough said).
The big problem for me was (as in the case of "Deep Blue" yet again) Morris's inability to effectively convey the character of the Doctor. One minute he's magisterial and knowing a la McCoy at his peak (in the Virgin NAs), then he's doing a convincing Troughton/Pertwee/Baker imitation. Then he's all-knowing again. This is not Morris's fault. The lack of focus of the Eighth Doctor is a defining characteristic of the early 8DAs, with a few notable exceptions. In the absence of more than 90 minutes' on-screen definition of the character, I suppose it's tempting to play it safe and cut-and-paste the past.
Sam is her usual cipherish, politically correct, early 8DA self. The character of Sam was, by the by, the single biggest mistake made by the creators of the early 8DAs. Not until "Interference" was Sam Jones given some workable material, and it was all over by then anyway. The character has two settings: wide-eyed and indignant, rather like the similarly grating Peri Brown, and I found myself skipping through the sections of "Bodysnatchers" where Sam carries the action. Litefoot works as well as you'd expect, given that the character as created by Robert Holmes was part of a double act with the theatre manager Henry Gordon Jago. The larger-than-life Jago (played in Weng-Chiang by the excellent Christopher Benjamin) was surely the half of the duo who could work on his own in a PDA. Litefoot simply wanders mystified through the tale bickering with Sam, in the manner pioneered by "Dr. Watson" and Bernice Summerfield in Andy Lane's Virgin NA "All-Consuming Fire". See what I mean...it's all been done better elsewhere.
All in all, "The Bodysnatchers" is, like "Deep Blue," fast food for the head. It's written fairly well, and has some excellent set pieces (such as the opening teaser, the Skarasen rampage, the Zygon ship, and the suitably gross death of Balaak). The Zygons come off relatively unscathed, compared to the awful deployment of other old villains in early 8DAs. Mark Morris has clearly invested some research time, and it shows in his fine recreation of creepy late-Victoriana. If you happen across a copy of "Bodysnatchers," by all means read it. Don't expect anything paradigm-shattering, it's just one of the better entries in a shaky period in the franchise's history.
There seems to be a growing disdain among media fans, especially Doctor Who fans, towards novels that use previous adventures as a basis for new stories. Some call it self-referential, others says it s derivative. There is some truth to that, as far as it goes. Still, if the writer worries more about creating some new story out of thin air than writing an engaging and interesting plot, what is the point if nobody reads the book?
The Bodysnatchers makes no bones (no pun intended) about the fact that it is a sequel to Terror of the Zygons (with several nods to The Talons of Weng-Chiang). It (and its author, Mark Morris) thumbs its nose at fannish psuedo-literary pretentiousness and gets right down to the business of telling a good story.
The Doctor, now in his eighth incarnation and accompanied by his latest companion Samantha ("Sam") Jones, makes a side trip to 1893 London in order to get the Christmas edition of The Strand. (Don't ask.) Naturally, he stumbles across horrible deaths and immediately decides to lend his not-inconsiderable expertise (at least he isn't immediately accused of the murders).
Deciding his needs an ally (not to mention a base of operations) in this time and place, he seeks out his old acquaintance Professor George Litefoot, the eminent pathologist and one of the few people on Earth who know the true story of "The Limehouse Affair and the Giant Rat." He explains away his startling transformation in a rather unique way for the series, then sets out to drag Sam and Litefoot straight into...well, more on that in a bit.
One of the subplots includes a young lady named Emmaline Seers, who is distressed over her father's recent and total shift in temperament, changing from a kind, philanthropic factory manager to Britain's answer to Simon Legree. His murdering her mother sends her over the edge, running straight into the Doctor and his friends. Of course, armed with this information, the Doctor soons deduces that he's up against...Zygons!
It turns out that Broton's ship, the one in Loch Ness, was only one of a fleet that had made its way to Earth. Most of the others were destroyed at some point, but besides the one in Scotland, a ship in the Thames has survived, complete with a herd of baby Skarasen. "Baby" being a relative term -- while none of these cyborg lizard-cows is anywhere near the size of "Nessie," they are still sizeable enough to cause havoc in London.
The trio is captured and immobilized for duplication by Zygons, except for the Doctor, whose physiology defeats the organic technology involved. Baalak, the Zygon leader, learns of the TARDIS, and plans to use it to return his people to their home planet to prevent its destruction. He sends the Doctor back with a Zygon scientist who is duplicating Sam, with dire threats about any double-crossing.
Derivative or not, this novel is terrific. Mark Morris incorporates a sheaf of good ideas here, not the least of which is including Litefoot, one of the most popular "guest stars" ever in the series. (It's a pity that he doesn't incorporate Henry Jago, the other luminary from TOWC, instead leaving him "on holiday at the seaside." It would be fun to see this team again). Another is showcasing the differences between the Fourth Doctor and his current self, not the least of which is his "romantic nature." (No, no kissing scenes here, but Sam seems almost possessive of the Doctor, especially around the beautiful Emmeline. Hmmmm...) Also, the Doctor seems far from infallible and all-knowing, a departure from his previous scheming incarnation. His solution to the Zygon problem backfires with dire consequences, something the Doctor will have to live with forever.
This is the first novel I have read with Sam in it, and my personal jury is still out on her. She seems much like an Ace clone (although I also said that about Benny Summerfield, and later regretted it) without the predilection for blowing things up. Not much of her backstory is incorporated into this novel, so I really can't say whether or not I really like her. Well, as the man said, Time will tell...it always does.
There's a lot wrong with The Bodysnatchers, especially near the beginning, but it keeps improving until by the end I thought it was a laugh. I can see why it's not generally popular, but I enjoyed it.
The first fifty pages are awful. The plot (such as it is) isn't under way yet, so instead we get bad portrayals of the 8th Doctor and Sam doing nothing of interest while predictable nastiness happens elsewhere. We see some of the Doctor's thoughts, always a bad idea but here particularly poorly executed. Meanwhile for this book only Sam Jones has mysteriously morphed into an Ace clone, albeit with Sam's more annoying traits grafted on. Yes, she still has a ghastly obsession with looking cool. Also she makes too many pop culture references and never seems to understand the culture clash between her era and Victorian London. She's like Ace in Ghost Light, except that with Ace the penny eventually dropped.
In fact the characterisation's poor throughout. Litefoot never comes alive and the original characters are run-of-the-mill; Jack Howe is okay but so cartoonishly evil that eventually he just became funny. I liked Tuval the scientist Zygon though.
There's far more continuity than you'd expect, even in a book that sequelises two Tom Baker stories simultaneously. The Doctor's introduction is almost Gary Russell-esque, while strange bits of continuity keep popping up throughout. Was Mark Morris a closet fanboy? The geek-out is particularly bad with the TARDIS, with its temporal grace and Hostile Action Displacement System getting shown off and the former being given such amazingly extended powers that I think we'll have to assume there was a system failure almost immediately. Just from the following few 8DAs, Mark Morris's notion of temporal grace would have buggered up the endings of War of the Daleks and Option Lock.
However this book has two saving graces: Victoriana and the Zygons. I loved 'em both. Morris gives us some staggeringly stupid Zygon mentality, but also some strange reinvention and squiddy bio-tech. Similarly the nineteenth century is evoked with vigour and venom, giving us a gruesome world of deprivation and disease. You can tell Mark Morris is a horror author. Forgot plot or characterisation. The Bodysnatchers is at its liveliest when trying to make you go "ewwww", be it by wading through sewage, graverobbing or Jack Howe's idea of a friendly pub pastime.
The plot is pretty simple ("Zygons in Victorian London" pretty much sums it up) but eventually I got caught up in it. The Doctor gets some good scenes confronting the baddies, while ironically the book's best bits came after the Zygons were dead. However I realised afterwards that the story is so straightforward that only the Doctor gets anything interesting to do and his most significant action is a ghastly cock-up. Ah well. It's still nice to see a comparatively Doctor-centric book, especially when compared with many of the other 1997-2000 8DAs.
And then there's Sam Jones. I've said she's annoying here and she is, in spades, but it also occurred to me that in her first year she gets the best development of any BBC companion. Vampire Science was Sam's first real adventure and in that she's arrogant, stupid, preachy and trying to out-cool the Doctor until the vampires get her. She survives (damn!) and in The Bodysnatchers she's still cocky and image-obsessed. Eventually the Doctor gives her a good talking-to (p249)... and miracle of miracles, she listens! All that "trying to look cool" nonsense disappears from Genocide onwards, and her self-righteous confidence takes a further knock in that book when she kills a Tractite.
Sam stops trying to be like the Doctor and falls for him instead. Almost from the beginning we knew that she was aware of him sexually, but after War of the Daleks it's no longer ambiguous. In Longest Day her feelings make her go batshit and she runs away from the Doctor, thus triggering the four-book "Sam is Missing" arc which ended with Seeing I. Oh, and we also got the Dark Sam revelations.
I'm sure much of that happened by accident, but I'm still impressed. Fan-favourite companions tend to be iconic rather than evolving, with the likes of Benny or Fitz today being identical to the versions we saw on debut. Whereas those twelve months from The Eight Doctors to Seeing I have real character development for Sam, both in the details and the larger brushstrokes. She even becomes tolerable from Alien Bodies onwards. It's just a shame that the character fell apart after Seeing I, with the Ha'olam non-developments being largely ignored and a preachier-than-ever Sam going from bad to worse in books like The Janus Conjunction, Beltempest and The Face-Eater.
In all honesty The Bodysnatchers isn't particularly good, though I thought Mark Morris was starting to find his feet towards the end. (There's a great line on p256.) There's not much that's interesting or surprising, but as a horror-tinged potboiler I had some fun with it. Its bashing back in 1997 probably had much to do with fan expectations and BBC-Virgin comparisons. You could read worse.