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The Sleep of Reason

Doctor Who: The BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures #70
Damian Jeremiah

Well I'm back and after the shocking quality of the review of Of the City of the Saved, its now my turn to persuade you all that Sleep of Reason is one EDA you should ALL read.

Martin Day I believe has written the best EDA this year(apologies Mark and Johnny)and in my opinion, its also one of the better EDA's I've read for a long time. This book is Martin Day writing at the top of his game.

Now its not your usual galaxy hopping, planet saving Dr Who tale, but a far more sedate and character driven piece of prose. Not that this is a bad thing. Its Dr Who working at its most humanistic level. In having the Dr take time out from saving worlds and concentrating on just trying to save a few lives we get a Who book that totally grips you and manages to really give those emotions a good workout.

It may be the fact that depression and its treatment form a key part of the tale, and having had experience of such an illness then it probably struck more of a chord with me than normal. I however don't really believe this, I think its the strength of Martins characterisation of Caroline Laska, that really reaches out from the book, to such an extent that you can see her there in front of you. A perfect example is her initial refusal to accept help from the Dr and the fact it almost prompted me to shout "Listen to him Laska he knows what he on about" when her gradual realisation that our esteemed traveller can in fact help I couldn't help but smile that happy smile. You REALLY do feel for her. so in my opinion damned good job on that front Martin. I liked her so much my fingers were crossed The Doctor was going to get another companion. She has to return Martin.

What I should point out here is, when initially reading the book your starting to wonder when the Dr is going to appear as he does take a while to turn up. Some may find this absence a tad bewildering, hang around it's worth it. This just makes his appearance in the tale that much more special, it focuses our mind on the fact he isn't just your average hero he really is this marvellous life saving force of nature that can make a huge difference on even the smallest scale.

But is there anything I can be negative about? Not really to be honest, some may find the pace initially off-putting but stick with it you will be rewarded.

Some have mentioned the pace of the novel is far to quick towards the end, but IMO when you get to this point you going to want to get there as much as Martin did whilst writing. If anything it does seem speedy but you'll be sad it did end.

The only other thing I could possibly mention is I personally did find Fitz becoming a tad too much of a caricature of himself, that could just be my over familiarity with the character though.

I need to explain my review here, I don't really want to post the meat and two veg of the book that's not why I'm doing it, I feel the need to express my own feelings about it and hope it persuades you to read it too, without spoiling anything in relation to the tale itself. Read the cover blurb that's what its for, anyway I digress.

My final point is, I don't know whether the shows return has had time to make a real effect yet on the authors, but if anything their game has raised and I'd really like to hope the fiction range is realised as the breeding ground for Who talent it truly can be. If the new Show when it returns in 2005 manages to meld the sci-fi and humanistic element of Who as well as The Sleep of Reason does then we're in for a treat.

Now Martin please write us another and soon.

Lawrence Conquest

Praise be – the 2nd EDA in a row that functions solely as a standalone novel and contains absolutely no ongoing backstory or teasing foreshadowing of possible future events – so inept had the EDA’s serial storytelling become I’m now positively salivating at the prospect of the range merging into the PDA line come the new TV series. That’s not to suggest that The Sleep of Reason is some latter day masterpiece however – in the final analysis it’s a reasonably enjoyable but overly familiar tale – but freed from the shackles of interminable continuity new life has been breathed into the dying Eighth Doctor novel range.

While it has a fine climax though, The Sleep of Reason certainly takes its time to get going, and at times runs the risk of being boring. It’s pitched initially as a horror novel, so it’s a familiar slow build up of damaged heroine, mental hospital, spooky lights, ghostly apparitions, disappearances, inexplicable deaths – you know the drill, (and you also know that Doctor Who horror stories ALWAYS end up explained away as a case of ‘aliens in the basement’). The story is mostly told from the viewpoint of new hospital inmate Laska, who holds the novel well enough, though the result is that the TARDIS regulars barely make an appearance in the first 100 pages. In fact, while the Doctor eventually comes out into the spotlight and makes an impact on events (though he does read oddly like the NA’s 7th Doctor) this is a rather lacklustre outing for both Fitz and Trix – both of them get a modicum of action but neither really gets any sold character work; I’m surprised that with the theme of mental illness Fitz never mentions his mother, and we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to find out any more of Trix’s background. The main narrative is also interspersed with diary extracts relating a very similar situation from 100 years previously – while this ties up nicely with the present day setting in a 7th Doctor-style time-twisty dénouement and is a nice little spooky tale in itself, in truth it becomes a little repetitive reading two virtually identical tales of spooky goings on in the asylum side by side.

The Sleep of Reason is a well put together novel, but one reason I wasn’t more enamoured with the novel was the almost constant sense of familiarity it engendered – throughout I kept getting flashes of déjà vu. While the setting initially resembles that of Casualties of War (more 8th Doctor spooky goings on in the asylum), ultimately I kept being reminded of uncomfortably close parallels with John Carpenter’s movie The Thing. Both stories feature an alien life form that arrives on Earth and seeks to reproduce using the locals as hosts, with the alien initially taking over a dog, before picking off the completely isolated humans one by one – can you tell who is human and who has been taken over by The Thi…err…I mean the Sholem-Luz? Change the setting of an isolated Antarctic research station with an evil force enclosed mental institution and the basic story remains the same – the only real difference is that whilst in The Thing the alien is killed by fire, here it actually seeks it to reproduce. The aliens only other ‘novel’ angle – it feeds on negative emotions – hey, it’s the monster from The Fearmonger! Even the top and tails twist – a mental hospital patient who has received some of the Doctor’s memories and is under the illusion that he is the Doctor – seems to have been lifted straight from Minuet in Hell.

While things aren’t particularly original however, the novel rattles along in a readable manner, and the last 60-odd pages make for a well-plotted and exciting finale. Generally the writing is fine throughout, though Day can be a little heavy-handed when it comes to dropping his character backstory revelations, with the result that they end up feeling like soap opera clichés (e.g.; the melodramatic reveal of the connection between Laska and Dr Bartholomew, or the cheesy revelation of Joe’s medical condition in the Epilogue).

The Sleep of Reason if a generally pleasant read, that builds up to a good solid climax – but ultimately it just feels a little too second hand to make the jump from being a merely good story to being a great one.

Joe Ford

It seems odd to read an EDA in this pre-9th Doctor stage what with all the fuss and bother about the new series and the changes in the book range. I would have thought the books would seem tired and old, running for nearly six years and that we were just delaying the inevitable. Nothing could be further than the truth, for every reason conceivable The Sleep of Reason continues the astonishing quality of the post-Sometime Never... fallout. And for what is 60-odd books into the range this feels fresh and different, unlike any other EDA or NA.

It is a dark and mature book that grips you with the quality of the characterisation and the density of the prose. It manages to top Bunker Soldiers, Martin Day's last piece and that was brilliant enough.

Reading Martin Day's interview in DWM left me cold, he mentioned the book had a NA feel, was adult and hardly featured the Doctor, Fitz and Trix. All these are true but as far as this book is concerned they are all strengths.

Some might say that the majority of the NAs were adult because they had swear words and sex scenes but I do not subscribe to this view, in fact these are the very reasons I was angered by the range. The Sleep of Reason is my idea of an adult book, one that deals with serious and disturbing issues with sensitivity and emotion and looks at its characters deeply, allowing the reader to get under their skin and understand what makes them tick. Sex plays a crucial role in the plot and is not included as a gratuitous thrill. Swear words have a purpose, the meaning, the anger behind them are utterly essential to the enemy. Characters think about their ugly breasts or painting willies and it draws you to them as they open up so totally. As Day wanted, the book is grounded in reality but it never oversteps the mark or tries to sensationalise it. I like that.

The absence of the regulars was far more interesting than I could have imagined purely because it allows the book to explore how other people see them. As well as their scarce appearances there are no scenes written from the POV of any of the regulars, when they are around it is fascinating to see how they affect the lives of those they meet. I'm surprised that this has never been attempted before but it certainly gives the book a unique feel and helps to strength the importance of the characters. The Sleep of Reason is a Doctor Who book in every respect but it is also a great novel as well and so many authors forget to make that distinction when writing for the range (the last book I could say would work independent of Doctor Who is probably The City of the Dead).

The central character is Caroline Darnel (or Laska as she likes to be called), a self-harming delinquent who is admitted to the Retreat to rehabilitate herself back into society. The first chapter is astonishingly written to grab the reader and plunge them into Laska's world of darkness. You get intimately close to Laska throughout and are always aware with crystal clarity what she is thinking and going through. As the supernatural presence rips through the Retreat it is easy to sympathise with Laska's doubts of her sanity. The characterisation is pleasingly consistent, Laska seeing conspiracies every, in every conversation she has.

The Laska/Doctor relationship is what the books hinges on and thoughtfully written, it is his best relationship with a secondary character since Rhian in Book of the Still. It's great how initially sceptical she is of him and his eccentric ways (and his friends, the bitchy blond and the bimbo bloke!) and how he cleverly uses their sessions to grow closer to her to the point where she is reaching out to him in times of danger. The scene where she explores the Doctor's cottage and he comes barging in ranting on about good and evil, justice and prejudice... you can almost understand why people think he is a loony! His fierce interest and protection of her is fascinating and his little aside that he has been concentrating big issues for far too long and it is about time he started looking at the details, the lives of people he helps. After the events of the past ten books this is fabulous development of our favourite Time Lord, a blissful realisation that the good he can do can sometimes only extend to helping get a few lives back on track. Their last scene on the hillside before the Doctor leaves is beautiful; Laska's newfound confidence is a strong reminder of the magic that the Doctor can achieve.

Fitz and Trix are less important although there are a fair few classic Fitz moments especially concerning his lack of subtlety and his inability to read subtext in any conversation. Liz astutely observes the Doctor is fiercely protective of his friends and he orders them about as though he expects them to obey... seeing their relationship through fresh eyes reminds you what an effective unit they make. Perhaps there was a trick missed with exploring Trix's dark past given the psychological slant of the book but in all honestly it would have felt out of place in this already packed book and there are still three books to deal with her back story satisfactorily.

All the staff members of the Retreat come alive as real people. Liz, struggling to cope with an impossible situation with as much humanity as possible, her life seemingly nothing but work, work, work... Dr Oldfield is a suitably slimy piece of work, trying to undermine Liz's authority and find some dirt on her so he can take over as boss. James Abel, secretly sleeping with one of the patients and bursting with youthful enthusiasm. There is a feeling tension running through the first half as patients and staff alike all have their secrets which are bursting to be released and all hell break loose... an atmosphere of tense anxiety radiates from the characters that kept me reading hungrily to witness the explosion of emotions.

There are some of the most horrific images we have seen in a while in The Sleep of Reason, a disturbing mixture of the psychological and the visceral that creeped me out totally. Bodies burning, skulls smashed in, patients being hideously abused, rational men doused in petrol and threatening to burn themselves alive... this horrific material is a welcome relief after the frivolous fluff of The Tomorrow Windows and SynthespiansTM. I have always been creeped out by books set in insane asylums... something about the unpredictability and homicidal nature of patients that unnerves me. In here Day ensures you are aware that at any moment any of his characters is capable of cracking. The image of the bloated, foam-lipped wolf savagely ripping into people is one that will stay with me for a good while.

The writing styles of The Sleep of Reason and SynthespiansTM are interesting to compare because they both contain lots of internal dialogue, characters thinking about their situation and their feelings and yet this book is far more professionally written and edited, the emotions of the characters expertly written to grip the reader at the right points. The tones of each book are completely different of course, last month's was deliberately light-hearted and chaotic but I personally prefer a writer who is economic and considerate with his writing, who writes what is needed to involve the reader rather than indulging in playful frivolities. Martin Day has come on in leaps and bounds since his modest beginnings with The Menagerie and this book keeps its razor's edge tone throughout and never loses sight of its plot or characters.

Extra merit must be given for the superb flashbacks to the history of the Retreat written in the form of diary extracts. These cuts back to Masoleus were terrifyingly good, especially concerning the psychotic orderly Fern. The atmosphere of this Victorian madhouse is stiflingly scary.

I cannot praise this book enough. I loved every word. And despite Day's claims that his old associate Mr Cornell is a better writer this is far superior than any work we have seen from Cornell is ages. The pupil has outgrown the master.

Finn Clark

Astonishingly good. I'd practically given up on any expectation of seeing books like this in the post-cutback era, let alone ones starring the 8th Doctor. Not merely the best 8DA I've read since Christmas 2001, but possibly up there in my all-time top five 8DAs.

It starts slowly but powerfully. We get a worrying prologue in which a mysterious patient announces his retirement, then a chapter about a disturbed young girl that's downright hard to keep reading. This is a book set in a mental institution, both in the present day and 1903, and for many chapters its focus is firmly on the people who live there, both staff and patients. A significant effect of this is to nail our attention to the characters and their problems. Without aliens, spaceships or any other such nonsense, we can settle into an actual *novel*.

It's superbly written, too. The 1903 diary voice is utterly authentic, so clearly distinguished from the present day sections that there's never the slightest danger of confusion. (In comparison it took me a while to learn to distinguish some of the individual characters, whose voices are less distinctive.) Each era is beautifully portrayed, sucking you in completely.

The TARDIS crew hardly appear in these early chapters, which is a good thing for reasons other than the obvious! The book takes its time building up towards Whoishness, so for quite a while the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix are kept offstage or only met en passant. The result is that these people of whom I'm, uh, not fond are allowed to grow into actual characters. Martin Day isn't in denial about Trix's character flaws, so paradoxically her portrayal feels more honest and sympathetic than usual. Fitz made me laugh. Even the 8th Doctor is more vivid than I can remember him being in ages, his powerful presence in the background almost making him feel like the NAs' 7th Doctor at times. He carries it off well. He's unquestionably McGann rather than McCoy, but for the duration of this book I actually liked him again!

Gradually the Whoish plot surfaces. The book accelerates into a traditional "save the day" scenario, but without sacrificing the characters and quality that brought it this far. It's rather exciting! I can imagine a certain kind of reader finding the early chapters slow going, but they'll reach more familiar territory if they persevere. Enough is unclear in the ending for a hefty dose of "I'll explain later" to be required, but in fairness the book does actually explain later. And don't think Martin Day has forgotten the prologue... there's a real surprise waiting with that one. I liked that too.

What makes this book special is its writing. The plot commendably gives its characters all the room they need to grow and breathe, but weaker execution could have made those early chapters crawl and made some of the revelations look risible. (Even in the book as it stands there might perhaps be one character revelation too many... the coincidence factor felt a little strong at times, though admittedly it's implied that they may not be mere coincidences.) The action in the ending is linked to the themes of the novel that built up to it. Even the Black Sheep cover for once has a bit of atmosphere.

This book had huge problems to overcome. I was (and remain) predisposed to hate any book starring the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix, partly because of the characters and partly because of what's happened over the last couple of years. Instead this book won me over. This is a novel to reassure anyone who hasn't much liked anything since the books went monthly. Martin Day has outdone himself. Nice one!