Physically, the Doctor didn't look a day older, but he carried that weight with him, she could see that now.
She held out her hand. 'All of us carry the weight of the past, even if we don't know what the past is'.
FATHER TIME marks another instant classic for Lance Parkin and a milestone for the enduring series. The novel innovates, entertains and conveys a more pleasing, developed and personally rewarding Doctor Who than experienced in many recent adventures.
In many ways, the Doctor has not been so much himself in a long time. And very rarely has a writer illustrated a Doctor so fittingly "McGann". Back to old tricks, the Doctor plays dead yet casually brushes off the effects of a deadly Mindeater. In a comfortable atmosphere, he recognizes outer space as "home". In fact, many of the familiar pieces are falling back into play. The strange and unknown box the stranger named the Doctor has been toting since THE BURNING has clearly taken the shape of a Police Box. The Doctor willingly shares sweets with his friends. Jelly babies! A UFO spotter mentions a task force under the United Nations that allegedly covers up alien activity. The Doctor has even nearly perfected an invention that uses sonar to unlock things. The Sonic Suitcase!
Still, it's the non-traditional aspects that enhance this accomplished novel. The Doctor conceived the idea of bottling pure water and has become a millionaire, a nineteen-eighties modernite, an entrepreneur, a big money capiltalist. His look is nearly the same, only his frock coat is now Armani. The Doctor is considered a genius, charging ten thousand a day and worth it. In three days, he redesigns an entire company's infrastructure. Our restless wanderer of space and time has spent so long on Earth that he's become Thatcherism personified. His means of escape might be a personal check for an enormous sum. It's a brilliant conceit and it works.
The supporting cast read brilliantly. Crisp, rich, delightful and well rounded characters appear to be the standard fair for nearly all the books in this arc. Never have the characters in Doctor Who have been so sympathetic and compelling as in the storyline beginning with THE BURNING, and they've come to new glories here. Debbie, who has jokingly been suggested could be portrayed by Minnie Driver, is marvelous in her role as the Doctor's main companion for this one. She's real, dwelling in the mediocre world of wife-dom. She rises up in the face of impending universal destruction and personal living death to become a companion for the record books. Mr. Gibson plays the archetypal Billy Zane over-the-top menacing foe, but he has moments of true hurtful humanity and merits the readers pondering sympathy. It's rare in Doctor Who to find characters that demonstrate so many dimensions as the are met with so many varying sorts of challenges.
The true star of the novel is the Doctor's daughter, the two hearted Miranda, who single handedly seems to make this novel one of the highest rated of the Doctor Who classics. The novel is told during her youth, her teens, and her adulthood, granting the reader and intimate understanding of her motivations reaching beyond her destiny. She is the perfect foil for the amnesiac Doctor, headstrong, assertive and in every way what he once was in his idealistic planet saving glory. She'll declare herself an ultimate power if only to prevent others with abusive ambitions from challenging to take that mantle. Miranda, accused of being a curse to the universe, will do anything to bring peace at all costs. Sound familiar?
Father Time is itself a nice title. One questions whether the author refers to the Doctor as "The Father of Time itself", in a Time's Champion sort of twist, suggesting that he's finally finding himself again. Or, considered another way, perhaps the title suggests that the Doctor has been many things and now it's "Time to be a Father." This is quite refreshingly eloquent.
The book is chock full of fun references, many attributed to the Eighties. Teen Titans comics drawn by George Perez, Neil from The Young Ones, Black Adder, The Muppet Show and so forth. Even old Iris Wildthyme has made her visit to this memory challenged Doctor. The most self-indulgent in-joke occurs when Debbie takes the Doctor to see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and he wishes for a Time Travelling phone box of his own. Simply fabulous!
Over all, this book is must. One of the all time classics of Doctor Who. Enjoy it.
The two books in January can be best summed up as jolly romps. Different types of romp but romp all the same. This is not a comparison piece so it will be best just to identify each romp on its own merits. Suffice to say what they lack in depth they make up for in entertainment. On some occasions this is enough, on others (as with Father Time) it is not.
It all depends on whether a writer being cuddly, approachable and a downright good egg is enough. Huge swathes of fandom venerate Parkin in ways that better writers, like Miles, are not. The Jade Pagoda discussion list, for example, has gone some length to encourage the Parkin godhead. It seems that whatever Parkin writes is not only quintessential Who, but of an unquestionable quality. The writer himself seems somewhat precious about his work - there are apparently 61 influences in Father Time from other sources. Borrowed on account, as it were. In his novels he is also developing a 'season' in its own right but one has to be terribly clever (or anodyne) to work it all out. This makes for an irritating discussion with brownie points for those fans who get it right.
All this would be fine if one could put a hand on the heart and say that what is delivered lives up to expectation. Nothing wrong with a bit of arrogance and adoration if one really is the stuff dreams are made of. Parts of Father Time ache with possibility, but what most reviewers of the book have shied away from is saying that the truly tantalising back cover blurb disappoints when you get to page 280 (page 281 is just so indulgent that it really should not be there).
Why does it disappoint? This can be put simply. The Doctor with a daughter. One Hundred years 'caught on earth' with an identity crisis would make it perfectly possible that at some point the Doctor would find himself indulging in a sexual relationship which would result in the birth of a child. Before his escape in the next book, this would have added a new dimension to his character.
Ah, yes. The argument that the Doctor is essentially asexual and that to mess with this presumption is to somehow, betray what the series is all about. Piffle. Re-setting the switch is fine, but re-setting it so that there is even less scope to experiment with the series format and its relationships is like being stuck in a very nasty TV loop. Parkin fails to take the opportunity to push the envelope - the tease is an empty one. Miranda conveniently pops up from nowhere, with two hearts (presumably meant to get particular types of fan in a ponderous lather) and is adopted by a very bored (or boring) Eighth Doctor. Then begins a protracted 'hunt the last survivor of the Empire' which gets one all moist and mushy for 'Delta and the Bannermen' (if that is possible).
This hunt is a romp that you cannot take at all seriously. By splitting the book in three sections Parkin can write three short novellas with loose tie-ins to each other and set it up as a novel. The author's voice changes throughout and it becomes confusing as to what direction he is taking the reader (if indeed he is taking the reader in any direction at all). The first part is a quiet time in Emmerdale with a dash of Magrs. In many ways it is the best part of the book as Parkin (to give him his belated due) is evocative with his description and his ancillary 'human' characters. One would expect nothing less from him. There is also a sense of frippery that knocks the pretentiousness of The Infinity Doctors out the water. The Hunters are delightful examples of stupidity over self-interest and Prefect Zevron and his deputy are wonderfully generic. Parkin also gives some nice earthiness with the relationship of Debbie and Barry. Oh - and the Doctor cannot use a cue to save his life. The action climax is as absurd as it is smart. Miranda is young enough not to be an irritation and still has potential (could this be the off screen child of Mary from 'Casualties?).
So, good set-up - what next? Grange Hill. Very Eighties, granted, but Part Two reads as if Phil Redmond has been asked to take over for a while. Teenage years, teenage angst. Are we really supposed to swallow that single-minded Ferran spends so long observing Miranda that (gads) he falls in love with her? Is this funny in some circles? Lost on this reviewer. Add to this the construction of an implausible base in a tower block (Thatcher's Britain may have been bleak but it wasn't so bleak) and a bit of juggling of old and new characters and suddenly the journey starts looking disjointed and twee. The conceit used to split the Doctor and Miranda up at the end is the age old 'significant event morphs teenage super alien to mature super alien' which bounces on the surface of this section. Only problem is that Miranda, at this stage, has become so 'normal' that she loses any of her impact.
The Doctor makes an awful lot of money out of bottled water; it seems, so that he can provide security for 'his daughter'. It is the same funding and kudos that enables him in part three to steal a shuttle. Now, depending where you stand on UNIT dating, would it not have been possible for this event to go noticed by the Intelligence Taskforce. A chap called the Doctor just stole a shuttle? Hmm. Could it be? And would not the events in Part One have raised Lethbridge-Stewart's eyebrows a little? The Doctor hardly keeps a low profile during his Pet Shop Boys days.
So, up into space to save Miranda from the clutches of a warped Ferran whom, sadly has left his youth behind him. The sequences on the Supremacy (ha bloody ha) are by far the most futile in the book - Miranda morphs into a guest star from Blake's 7, rallies up the slaves and its hi-ho spaceship landing. Debbie (the only truly consistent and interesting character in the novel) is needlessly killed (and where was the vision to do a Nyssa and make her a companion?). Everything ties up in a mess that John Peel would be proud of for its fun romping.
And there you have it. Jolly romp pretending to be so much more that it gives the reader a headache. Where Parkin captures the spirit of the Eighties (dropping in every recognisable product both physical and philosophical) he falls short on plot and direction. One supposes that the argument goes that all the elements criticised above are part of Eighties heritage and that we should all smile along with Parkin in picking up the influences. If other reviews are anything to go by then there are a lot of smiley people out there. Sadly, whilst it was jolly, Father Time is not the book it promised to be.
Lance Parkin novels are like Madonna's career. She comes out with something new, hits a stride, your enraptured by it for ages and then just as suddenly she blows it, reverting toe asiness, laziness and tack. Take 'The Infinity Doctors'. It started off as a totally intriguing reconceptualising of the whole Who mythos, and then goes and blows it with a horrendous couple of action scenes and some nonsense about Rutans and Sontarans living happily ever after (or something).
Similarly, see 'Father Time'.
Oh, does it start good. Basically it begins like every fan's secret dream, as a mere mortal like us, living a dreary all-too real real-life, like us, actually MEETS THE DOCTOR! The atmosphere is incredible, you can FEEL the snow and the cold, you can see the action and details in your head, and you can feel that incredible tingle of excitement that the human character here, Debbie Castle, feels when in this scatty-minded intellectual enigma of a character's company.
And then Lance hits us with the existence of a child, a small girl, a girl with two hearts and a lower temperature and a keen sense of perception and wonder and intellecet.....the joy of realising this girl is a Gallifreyan, and quite possibly, bearing in kind the title, the Doctor's ACTUAL DAUGHTER, is brilliant, and it all seems to make sense as the alien hunters step up their attempts to destroy her and anybody who gets in their way. The action scenes as they do this are straight out of the tv movie, and are visualised perfectly.
The book's second installment then fast forwards, and its even better, as we see a settled (and filthy rich) Doctor bringing up the girl, Miranda, who is now going through a human-like adolescence. Just as the show 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' relied on a lot of its impact in the way it made the viewer reassess (and mentally resculpt) their own teenage years, so too do we read on in total awe, wondering how this Time Lord will react to Growing Up. It echoes too all those thoughts and musings we have had on what the Doctor himself was like as a youngster, scraping through those exams on the second attempt and snogging the Rani behind the Tardis bays (or whatever).
But alas, these ripples of excitement cannot be contained, and for some reason Lance then totally blows it by offerring a third installment that resembles nothing less than a hokey space opera rehash complete with the Doctor and Debbie stowing away easy as you please on a spaceshuttle and battling the alien mothership that is determined to capture Miranda once and for all.
Basically, it's just silly, and a total let-down. I'd have been more than happy to read more of Miranda growing up, and mabye coming to her own crossroads, finding an old Tardis (the Doctor's own blue box still resolutely fails to do anything except stand in a garden and tingle occassionally) and going out into the universe. Sure, the 'finding yourself' analogy does come as she leaves her adopted (as it turns out - boo hoo) father and goes backpacking it around the globe, but putting the action into a sub-Star Trek action scenario just makes it so....dull.
The best aspects of the book? The hints about the Doctor's memories about to come pack, creating some familiar gadgets and quoting some familiar lines of dialogue. That, and the entirity of the first two sections.
A great opportunity was missed with this book, but for readers following the current 'arc' (yeeeuch, I still hate that word) I do recommend it, for a sense of continuity as much as anything.
"Father Time" or "I was a teenage time lord."
When asked how he gets his ideas, Lance Parkin says he looks to see what no one else has done and submits that. "Father Time" is no exception, and it's no spoiler to say that the back cover mention of the Doctor's daughter made this the most anticipated novel of the year for me. And I wasn't disappointed. "Father Time" is good stuff, densely plotted and full of lively 80's references and - yes! - continuity.
The first thing that surprised me was that somehow the BBC had commissioned two novels in a row in which an enemy recognizes the Doctor, expects him to thwart their plans and takes appropriate action against him. Of course we know in these days there's no need. Last month in "Endgame" the Doctor didn't remember them; this time, apparently, he hasn't met the enemy yet!
In what's supposed to be a continuity-free era, "Father Time" is full of clever references to previous and future eighth Doctor's adventures - including Parkin's own continuity from "Infinity Doctors". And yes, I did say "future" - we get a tantalizing glimpse - as does the Doctor - of the next few adventures. Of course at the moment neither he nor us knows what to do with it!
This time we finally get a glimpse of what the Doctor's been up to in between stories, and I found it refreshing. The Doctor embraces fatherhood so enthusiastically that he goes out and earns a living to support Miranda. When he discovers that she's on board the UFO in orbit, he makes the logical - if somewhat convenient - decision that he'll need to hijack a space shuttle to reach it and rescue her. But how else would he have done it without the TARDIS? I'll admit at first I found the shuttle scenes (particularly the method by which he gets permission) a bit odd. But then I realized, this isn't the Doctor with a time machine standing in the corner. This Doctor doesn't care who knows about him - he doesn't know to be mysterious! And this fits perfectly with the amnesiac Doctor of the current arc.
As to the Doctor's aforementioned daughter, Miranda is a wonderfully drawn character, realistically wondering at her own differences from others on Earth and gradually trying to discover how she fits in. As a teenager, she' s thinking about boys, but as a time lord, she's analyzing why she's thinking about them and what it means. Meanwhile, to others she appears unattainable, perfection, and it's no wonder that Bob and Ferran fall all over themselves to impress her and throw tantrums when rejected. Just like the Doctor, Miranda has that intangible quality that draws others near.
Ferran is a tragic hero-villain. He's grown up hating Miranda but not really knowing why. He finds himself strangely attracted to her - unable to kill her even given a dozen opportunities. Yet he can't escape his destiny, and finally becomes the dictator he swore to eradicate, and is undone by his own ego. The methods by which the Doctor defeats him are wonderful - both in their execution and in the foreshadowing provided earlier in the book. Although Parkin gives the Doctor new powers that allow him to defeat his enemies, it's nice that we see the powers set up years before he puts them to use.
Other characters are well rounded, even the intended antagonists displaying admirable qualities throughout. Barry is ready to pound the Doctor for a chaste glance at his wife, yet sacrifices himself without a second thought when a child is threatened.
Finally, the Doctor has come a long way in his development, again. "What were you doing the day Kennedy died?" Debbie asks. "He's dead?" the Doctor replies, "I didn't know, I spent most of the 60's and 70's travelling." A hysterical in-joke yet also a poignant statement about how far the Doctor's come. After the desperation in "Turing Test" and the ennui of "Endgame," the Doctor needed to find himself. In "Father Time" at last he does, conveniently saving the world as well, repeatedly.
A wonderful culmination of the "exiled" arc, with interesting suggestions for the future. Read it now.