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ReviewsReviews

Managra

Doctor Who: The Virgin Missing Adventures #14
Finn Clark

A novel in advance of its time. Managra's rich Magrsian setting of fantasy, outre SF concepts, cloned historical characters and the undead is remniscent of nothing so much as The Scarlet Empress and the BBC Books that followed in its wake. However in September 1995, at the height of the Virgin era, it felt kinda overwhelming. I was blown away, but its Gothic extravagances still felt a little over-the-top and unWhoish. However today it feels just right.

I hasten to add that Managra has a plot. It's just that Stephen Marley is so obviously having fun playing in his world. It wallows in weirdness, luxuriating in a universe-full of detail... there's genuine 17th century history, a recreated Vatican and even real fictional characters, if you get my meaning. It's a richer experience than we normally get in Who, but that's a good thing! What's more, 33rd century Europa may be wildly bizarre but it's also coherent, well explained within the narrative and in harmony with in a larger Whoniverse context. There may be spectres, poltergeists, fallen angels, unfallen angels, trolls, hobgoblins, vampires, werewolves and suchlike entities, but it's not gratuitous random fantasy.

At times it's funny! The Sarah-Byron and Miles-Crocker double acts are a hoot, especially the latter's genre awareness and cliche-spoofing. (Europa is divided into Dominions which recreate 14th-19th century historical eras, in which anachronisms are a crime. Thus many Europans, especially the commoners, are playing the parts expected of them.)

This book is even ingenious on a mundane plot level. The Reprise clones (multiple Byrons, etc.) are a terrific story device. They allow Casanova vs. Casanova duels and other such comedy scenes, but they also let the book wield a deceptively large cast while enjoying all the virtues of an apparently smaller one. Reader memory isn't strained. Further memory crutches come with the recognisable figures from history or fiction - Lord Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley, Elizabeth de Bathory, Tomas de Torquemada, Cardinal Richelieu and more.

Oh, and for the first and last time we have anagrams in a Doctor Who story that aren't annoying! They're important to the story, y'see.

There are continuity nuggets, e.g. Earth Empire references, John Dee (i.e. Birthright's Jared Khan, though I don't know if that's accidental or not) and an Empire of Glass nod on p56. The latter hadn't been published when Managra came out, but check out the author's acknowledgements. Incidentally, while we're on the subject of Jared Khan, he may be Reprised in his Cagliostro incarnation (p155, p237) despite what the Doctor and the history books believe.

The Doctor and Sarah were occasionally off-base, but they're full of energy and fun to read about. Offhand this is the best Hinchcliffe-era 4th Doctor portrayal I can think of in a novel. The only bits I didn't like were their clunky introduction and a certain sexual awareness. The Doctor gets propositioned by Mary Shelley! I don't normally object to that in a novel, but I can't think of two more consciously child-like performances in Who than Tom Baker's and Liz Sladen's. Having said that, Sarah-fetishists will love this novel. After spending the first chunk of the book in a bikini, she dresses up as an altar boy! Even the Doctor and Byron raise an eyebrow.

Sadly Managra undermines itself by being a sequel to an unseen 17th-century adventure starring Countess Bathory and a much scarier monster than this one. What's worse, the text keeps on bringing it up! However if you want to read a real sequel, check out Stephen Marley's 'Baron (Count) Dracula and Count (Baron) Frankenstein' in Perfect Timing. I reread that after finishing this and it's fantastic, every bit as funny as the best bits of this novel. (It also dates Managra to approximately 3278 by starring Crocker and Miles Dashing and being set in 3279.)

This is a novel to relish. It offers a luxurious reading experience that outclasses almost all Doctor Who novels in its wildly imaginative setting, but then it tells a story too. A treasure.