I’m not a great admirer of Gary Russell’s work. While his overall contribution to the Doctor Who legacy – originally as editor of DWM and latterly as a producer of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas – is laudable, his individual contributions to the Doctor Who fiction line have, with a few exceptions, been unimpressive. Then again, I can’t exactly say I write with much objectivity, as I regard Gary Russell as a hypocrite of the nth degree!
As producer of the Doctor Who audio range, Russell has, in setting policy for unsolicited manuscripts, repeatedly discouraged would-be writers from resurrecting popular characters, monsters and concepts from the TV series. Doctor/Brigadier reunion tales, for instance, are off-limits; so are multi-Doctor adventures and rematches with the Valeyard (a long running joke in both the Big Finish and the Virgin stables). Yet, the same Gary Russell not only penned Business Unusual, which paired an ageing Brigadier with the Sixth Doctor, but also recently delivered the Doctor Who Unbound audio drama He Jests at Scars ... which reintroduced Michael Jayston as the Valeyard! He also co-wrote the 40th anniversary adventure Zagreus that was a multi-Doctor tale (sort of!).
In fact, little of Russell’s Doctor Who offerings have ever truly been original or refreshing, often purloining concepts from throughout the Doctor’s past. He not only has staked a claim to writing the ‘definitive’ farewell story for Liz Shaw (The Scales of Injustice, which also revived the Silurians, the Sea Devils and the Myrka), but also the ‘definitive’ introductory tale for Melanie Bush (Business Unusual again, which pitted the Doctor and the Brigadier against yet another aborted invasion by the Nestenes). His first novel Legacy was a third Peladon tale with Alpha Centauri and the Ice Warriors, while Placebo Effect revived the Wirrn and the Foamasi. While Big Finish is entitled to encourage fresh contributions and commission its more experienced writers to develop concepts from the Doctor’s past, Gary Russell has rarely set the example for other would-be writers. In fact, some fans could be forgiven for wondering if Russell imposes restrictions on other would-be writers so that they will not submit the kind of tales that he wants to write!
(I should mention at this point that I’ve never submitted a proposal to Virgin, BBC Books or Big Finish, therefore I shouldn't really have a personal axe to grind with Mr Russell. Nevertheless, like most impressionable young fans in the Nineties, I did once harbour ambitions to write the ultimate Valeyard return bout!)
So why then (much against my better bias) did I actually enjoy Divided Loyalties? Much like Russell’s other novels, Divided Loyalties has been labelled as 'fan wank' for not only setting up yet another rematch between the Doctor and the Celestial Toymaker (in a prequel to the abandoned Sixth Doctor tale The Nightmare Fair), but offering a flashback of a young First Doctor’s adventures at the Gallifreyan Academy and his original meeting with the Toymaker (which was hinted at in the Toymaker’s original TV appearance). Fortunately, Gary Russell’s saving grace is that he knows how to write an engaging and entertaining story that captures the nostalgia of the first Peter Davison season.
Russell makes a curious choice by pitting the TARDIS crew of the 19th season against the machinations of the Toymaker (I doubt too many other writers would have used this combination), but it nevertheless proves to be an ingenious move. His portrayals of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Adric and Nyssa are outstanding. All four characters command your attention when you read about each of them and the chemistry they share – both complimentary and contradictory – is wonderful. Russell expands on the conflict amongst the quartet that was only hinted at on television. Tegan’s characterisation is a highlight; she views her companions with distrust and suspicion, largely because she does not understand their alien behaviours and priorities (the Doctor is eccentric, Adric has no concept of cleanliness and Nyssa is far too smart for a teenage girl); she is also keen to be reunited with her cancer-stricken father in Brisbane. Adric comes in for some excellent treatment. He is still a whining, selfish upstart, but his behaviour is motivated by his sense of isolation from the TARDIS crew. He is not only jealous of Tegan and Nyssa’s presence, but he also mourns the loss of his original father figure in the Fourth Doctor. Nyssa is also beautifully represented, particularly in the Traken flashbacks. Russell recreates the Traken environment so well that he revives memories of Roger Limb’s memorable musical cues from The Keeper of Traken, particularly Nyssa’s theme. Nyssa, like Tegan and Adric, still grieves for her father Tremas.
Russell not only delivers a faithful representation of the Fifth Doctor, but he also emphasises a unique aspect of the character that we often forget: that the Doctor in this incarnation is really a paternal, elderly man who is trapped in a deceptively youthful body. This paternal streak is emphasised by his affection for Nyssa (which echoes Peter Davison’s comments that if he’d had a choice of one companion in the series, it would have been Nyssa). The Fifth Doctor’s vulnerabilities are also well fleshed out in the moral dilemmas he faces: should he attempt to rescue an old friend from the Toymaker’s clutches, but risk alienating Nyssa?
The Toymaker, of course, steals the show. Russell clearly relishes the opportunity to embellish the character’s motives and origin (naturally he draws on a load of other Who sources). His explanation of the Toymaker’s place in the Whoniverse may not be definitive, but it at least seems plausible. However, many of Russell’s original characters are less convincing. The crew of the space station Little Boy II is, for the most part, irrelevant to the main plot, but LeFevre and Rugglesthorpe – two of the Toymaker’s pawns – are interesting, but underused. The Time Lords Rallon and Millennia are Russell’s strongest original characters. Their demise in the middle of the story really does leave an impression, particularly when Millennia is left in a snow drift, awaiting a rescue that never comes.
Many fans have already commented on the flashback chapters of the younger First Doctor’s Academy days and on the Deca of rogue students who would later become some of the Doctor’s most formidable Time Lord foes. Yes, it is very contrived, pretentious and contentious – and the closing chapter is nothing short of ridiculous (Russell delivers a potted history of what happened to each member of the Deca – as if this book is likely to be read by anyone who isn’t a fan!). Nevertheless, the middle of the novel is an enjoyable and harmless distraction. Rather than get upset at the continuity implications, fans should treat this section (not to mention the entire book) as apocryphal. After all, the new TV series in 2005 might yet contradict Russell’s version of events.
Where Divided Loyalties really falls down is in its premise; like Russell’s other contributions to the Whoniverse, continuity is still the only motivator for the story. I’m sure a casual reader will be absolutely flummoxed by the resolution if they aren’t familiar with the events of Logopolis! In fact, what makes this resolution even more annoying is that Russell just suddenly reveals that there is a symbiotic relationship between two of the characters – this isn’t even vaguely hinted at throughout the course of the book, it is just announced!
In all, Divided Loyalties is an enjoyable read that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) deserve to be treated very seriously. Of course, it isn’t the most breathtakingly original Doctor Who tale around, but then again, it is written by Gary Russell. What else would you expect?
Continuity. Canon fodder. Fandom.
You might define these as the "divided loyalties" of a good author at odds with each other in a very bad novel. I've never been so disappointed with a book to the point where I want to shake the bloody author more senseless than Victoria Waterfield! (And after reading this drivel, I'm rather surprised she didn't make an appearance as well!)
I do not jest! Written in three parts or `rounds' of badly written, Divided Loyalties manages to choke my literary throat with a constant regurgitation of `guest appearances' when all I crave is the Celestial Toymaker.
Best example: Round Two of Divided Loyalties (aptly subtitled `Dreaming' but I could only HOPE it was all a dream..) affords the reader a potty flashback into the Doctor's days at the Academy. What might have proved an interesting and involving piece of new ground for a better writer, Russell manages to reduce it to the Gallifreyan equivalent of The Facts of Life. And God help us but every Time Lord to make an appearance in the Doctor's age old past originates here: Drax, the Rani, the Master and many more. No! No! No! I'm not giving the tidbits away! Trust me, you'll want to forget that these characters appeared here as much as you want to unwrite John Peel's crappy revelation that Susan shot the Master (in Roger Delgado dress), causing him to regenerate into the blob that eyed Tom Baker (and weren't they well-matched in that respect?).
Jokes aside, Russell employs a horrible recycling of past characters, plotlines and elements from previous stories without originating one real element of original plotting or text. In fact, a major plot revelation for this novel is just a cheesy allusion to the trilogic puzzle that plagued the First Doctor in The Celestial Toymaker (Dammit, Gary, what the hell were you thinking?!).
So what kind of storytelling sandwiches this mess of inspired writing? Much of the same really. When the author isn't regurgating background from Full Circle of Logopolis (plot threads of The Watcher will nauseate you in this book as well), Russell has Tegan, Adric and Nyssa doubting, questioning and nearly cursing the Doctor's abilities and merits (And quite frankly, Steve Lyons did a much better job with the intricacies of Mel, Roz and Chris's relationships to the Doctor in Head Games...think back how much or little you enjoyed that book and then read Divided Loyalties. Your opinion will astoundingly improve of Head Games.).
As for the Celestial Toymaker? Discarding Round Two, the menacing mandarin actually proves to be more interesting when simply aquiring pawns for his games than the Doctor and Nyssa holed up and bickering in some dreaded cave on Dymok (which reminds me, that planet in Head Games. begins with a D as well doesn't it?...nah, just coincidence). That's not saying much though as by Round Three, the Toymaker appears to have spent too many pages fighting off a split-personality disorder and a case of Gallifreyan face-lifting. No, I was more interested in LeFevre, the mandarin's intriguing henchman and a game of Snakes and Ladders than anything to do with TARDIS crew.
End result? Divided Loyalties isa poor sequel, adding very little to the few but wonderful bits and pieces of the mythos we know of the Toymaker. In a better author's hands (one less disallusioned by fandom), this book might have served to be an intriguing and worthwhile addition to the Doctor Who canon. Instead, we can only hope somebody can unwrite this mess (or somehow ignore it) of badly juxtaposed canon-fodder and wishful thinking in hopes of a better matchgame for the Doctor and the manipulative mandarin.. Until then, you can read Divided Loyalties, but please, excuse the mess: this was supposed to be a homage to a classic Who story. Still, there's always Business Unusual (ah, don't get me started).
In brief: Bwahahahaha! A book so bad it's a riot. Everything you've heard about this classic is true - and more. It encompasses everything that's truly, truly awful about Doctor Who fiction... and does so in a way that's a joy to read from start to finish. Kitschy and trashy in all the best ways.
It's long been a personal tenet of mine that Doctor Who can survive being bad, but it can't survive being boring. Gary Russell's last novel was the mind-meltingly dull Placebo Effect, where the only mild relief to be had was the hysterical so-bad-it's-funny religious 'debate' at the centre of it. With Divided Loyalties, he's taken that central idea and turned it into a novel.
Make no mistake, this is a terrible book. Words cannot adequately describe how bad this is. I've read some pretty bad fan fiction in my time, but this surpasses even that. The Eight Doctors was bad, but in a childlike and terribly naive way. The Pit was bad because it aimed too high and fell on its face. The original novels of Barry Letts combined appalling writing with idiotic plot points. Divided Loyalties sweeps all of those aside without even trying. It takes everything wrong with those books, and incorporates them without even breaking a sweat. This is an *awful* book.
Yet, that really doesn't seem to matter. I loved it anyway. Every page gave up a fresh horror, so much so that after a while I stopped shuddering in disbelief and just went with a flow. And seen with those eyes, the book works a treat. It's tacky fun, like bad seventies art. It's fan-fiction taken to its illogical extreme.
But it positively *flew* by! I like that. Don't worry about characterisation, or plot, or consistency - this book is clear proof that these things really aren't that important. A speedy read can save even the most lifeless book... yet DL is more akin to a comedy villain who just won't stay dead. Every time you think you've reached the absolute nadir of the book, the next few pages reveal new depths of badness. The words "so bad it's good" don't even begin to summarise it.
To list the faults of this book would be a novel in itself. Indeed, it essentially is. The regulars are terrible, squabbling and unlikable the whole way through. Adric's body odour is a subject I thought the novels would simply have the good taste to avoid: nope, it's here along with everything else.
We have flashbacks galore and every second one appears to be to The Keeper of Traken for some reason. We've got ludicrous and nonsensical backstories for more characters than we can sensibly grasp. We've got an attempt to tie into The Nightmare Fair that manages to destroy the central revelation of that book by having the Doctor mention it no less than three times, in passing.
"Whatever phantom zone she had found herself in, she would conduct herself with all the strength of a true daugher of Hull." Bwahahaha! On page 83, Adric's keen analytical mind is carefully and logically examined in novel form, when his brilliant scheme for getting back to Alzarius involves... reversing the CVE coordinates! I swear, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
The Young Doctor Who segment has to be seen to be believed. And even then, I'm still in awe. The Doctor in these flashbacks isn't played by William Hartnell. Oh no. He's played by Peter Davison in a bad wig, hamming it up, like a flashback episode of The Golden Girls.
We've got yet another character named Townsend, partly to remind us this is a Gary Russell book (I half expect there to be a different Townsend in every Big Finish audio production), partly to tie into Deadfall, just in case the three billion other stories this book references aren't enough.
This isn't a Past Doctor Adventure, it's a Target novelisation of A History of the Universe. The Big Fish has outdone himself with this book. It's FTRCODW, but it's doing it shamelessly. It's worth every cent I paid for it -- although to be fair, I should mention that it was a birthday present.
Divided Loyalties is, despite every intention to the contrary, not the worst Doctor Who book ever published. Unashamed hackwork, yes. Appalling in every measurable way, yes. But it's never boring and I have the sneaking suspicion that it will age like vintage seventies Who: in years to come it'll acquire a cult following for its pantomime-like awfulness. Sign me up now for a lifetime membership.
Yeah, alright, so maybe I was the one guy who actually enjoyed WAR OF THE DALEKS. Why? Because the tone was there. It had issues but felt like true and traditional televised Doctor Who. And in this age of high handed Lawrence Miles complexity, sometimes a glance back at the essence of what made us all fans in the first place is what we need. That said, would you like to hazard a guess as to whether or not I enjoyed DIVIDED LOYALTIES in the least? I did. I loved it!
If you haven't read the book I will be fair and tell you that most fans despise it. I really do not have any idea why. Perhaps they expected more silly death games from the Toymaker. Perhaps they dislike the Academy days of the Doctor. Most people I seem to discuss the book with seem to complain that it just didn't push the boundaries like other novels. What they fail to understand is that it pushes said boundaries by not pushing them. It stands alone as one of the most engaging introspective books. It looks to the past and dwells in the chaotic minds of characters often presented elsewhere as cardboard plot pawns. High on adventure and character, this book is one of the most enriching yarns to completely salute the nature of what the series used to be. Please allow me to put on my Harlan Ellison face and stand against any one of you who wish to knock Gary's book.
DIVIDED LOYALTIES was solid, entertaining and true in the Doctor Who sense. Yes, it owes more to the televised series than the ongoing novel range, but isn't that what made us love these characters to begin with? The show. There's a danger in forgetting one's roots and depending too much upon the merchandising that springs from its origins. How soon they forget "The Phantom Menace".
This is one of the best Doctor Who books in a long time. A long, long time! It's writing style is straightforward and engaging and reminds the reader of those childhood days spend wrapped up in a novel by Terrance Dicks. The companions are completely fleshed out in DIVIDED LOYALTIES, made more realistic in their relationships with each other and their own personal remorse. Gary reveals Tegan's disgust with Adric's poor hygene and Adric's regrets at the loss of "His" Doctor. The passions and hidden resentments make this very soap operatic but this suits the era of the Fifth Doctor quite nicely.
One of the biggest fan grievances with the novel seems to be the middle section of the novel which concerns itself with the Doctor's Academy days. Yes, I suppose you can EASILY replace "Toymaker" with "Q" or "Trelane", the "Galliifreyan Academy" with the "Federation Academy", and "The Doctor" with "Kirk" or "Picard" or whatever. But that's what adds to the fun and appeal of the book. It doesn't have to be overly complex and full of high level concepts like other books in the range. If it DOES feel like a Star Trek book, isn't that a testimony to the true versatility of the series? After all, isn't this the same thing Paul Magrs just did with BLUE ANGEL which the fans adored? As a fan of Parkin's A HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE and Platt's LUNGBARROW, I cherished the Academy scenes and loved the appearances of Badger, Koschei and others. And the nickname "Snail". Certainly, Gary would be the right person to craft the "History of Gallifrey" mini-series one day! Some feel Gary is too self referential. So what? He continually reminds us of the past and how much it SHOULD mean to us. That's what series fiction is supposed to be about.
Whereas much of the novel range pushes forward, DIVIDED LOYALTIES looks at the past. It shows no fear at revisiting Traken, Alzarius and Brisbane. The reader is transported back to the beginnings of long displaced guilt. Most fans expected more rehash of the CELESTIAL TOYMAKER. They expected more silly death games but what they received, I believe, was so much richer. There was a shared anger between the Doctor and Toymaker that made Hartnell react in an uncharacteristically sinister way. What past event could have made our beloved Doctor so bitter with this foe? Gary gives us this answer and it works. You don't get rehash of the old show. You get a straightforward, universal and genuine progression from that point.
With DIVIDED LOYALTIES, Gary Russell reminds us why we all fell in love with that silly television show in the first place. Because it was fun. This book is fun. Not high handed in complexity but rich in character and adventure. Tegan's opinions on pages 24-25 and the Doctor's lecture on pages 108-110 are reason alone to buy this book. If it seems like a Star Trek novel at times, who cares. Gary Russell has brought back style, character, adventure and "fun" to the series and needs to be commended. And yes, it's much better than WAR OF THE DALEKS, too!