Better than I expected! This book may be deliberately loathsome and depraved, but somehow it never feels like a parody of itself. There's a twisted integrity in its pages, a sense that the author is trying to explore themes rather than just presiding over a Matrix-like mess. The plot is better than Falls the Shadow, though the characters are inferior, and overall I got the sense of a book that at least manages to be interesting.
I liked its altered version of 1804, for a start. I've always regarded the French Revolutionaries as a bit like atheistic puritans or bolsheviks before Marx and Lenin, and it's brain-bending to see their world twisted into one of Marquis de Sade-inspired decadence. Of course the Marquis himself really lived in this era; I enjoyed the fact that the book was drawing historical comparisons instead of just making stuff up. Of course this is still basically a parallel universe story (ack, gurgle, retch), but only after a fashion. The true explanation is more complicated and more interesting. There's also enough historical verisimilitude in here to lend flavour and bring the world alive.
It reminded me of other Who books. The most obvious comparison is with Perry-Tucker's Matrix, also set in a doom-and-gloom 19th-century alternate reality, but in tone it feels more like Falls the Shadow or Managra. The former shouldn't surprise anyone, but the latter is because both books are set in a richly evoked world of baroque grotesquerie, strolling players, fictional characters and real details from continental Europe's history. I noticed playful references to The Prisoner (though I'm aware of the real historical coincidence behind Monsieur le Six), DC Comics, Frankenstein and (most curiously) the Wandering Jew.
Time for a digression... The Wandering Jew is a mythological character from the Middle Ages whose legend hasn't quite been forgotten in the modern age. Supposedly he offended Jesus en route to crucifixion and was cursed to wander the earth alone for eternity, like a medieval Flying Dutchman. He has lots of names, the most common being Malchus, Cartaphilus and Ahasuerus (or Ahasverus). For the latter, see pp99-102. He also appeared in Matrix, but it strikes me that his two appearances to date have been in books about nightmarish parallel versions of the 19th century.
The regulars are distinctive. This 1st Doctor is flat-out dying, on the point of regeneration with a collapsing body and failing memory. In a more restrained novel his characterisation would feel absurdly over-the-top, but The Man in the Velvet Mask is nothing if not a book of excess and this actually fits in. If nothing else, he's certainly memorable. Meanwhile Dodo is the token innocent in a decadent world, explicitly targeted for corruption by one of her new-found friends (though it doesn't quite work out as he planned). Again it's an extreme vision of the character, but it's praiseworthy for bringing alive one of the blandest TV companions.
I should discuss the myth that Dodo catches a fatal sexually transmitted disease. This is indeed a myth, but I can see where it came from. See p249: "Dodo thought of the virus eating through her nervous system and her brain. The image didn't stir her. It meant nothing, nothing at all." Readers who hadn't been paying full attention to an admittedly confusing book might take that passage literally and come away with the wrong impression.
This book certainly won't be for everyone. It's nothing at all like the Hartnell TV era, though in fairness Season Three was a time of strangeness and innovation. It's macabre, over-the-top and vaguely depressing, but as a stylistic experiment it's far from worthless. It tries to be the goodbye story that Dodo never got on TV and doesn't do too badly at that. It's hard to like and probably all too easy to hate, but in a twisted way I kinda admire it.
There is no liberty. She's dead.' He raised his head at last, to fix the Doctor with a plaintive stare. 'I did it. I killed her. It was me.'
When the TARDIS brings a frail First Doctor and an increasing uncertain Dodo to Paris in 1804, the Doctor believes it to be under the rule of Napoleon with the Revolution long over. But soon it appears that something has gone wrong with history itself and the nightmare world they find themselves in bears little resemblance to the way history was supposed to be. With First Deputy Minski ruling over the City, all prisoners are taken to the New Bastille, where deep in it's cells one man, Monsieur le 6, rots away, kept from all prying eyes...
Daniel O'Mahoney's The Man In The Velvet Mask is a most unusual First Doctor story, but it is the story's unusualness and distinctiveness that makes it such an enjoyable book to read. Whereas a lot of the First Doctor novels have tried to evoke the same style of historical that was depicted on television, O'Mahoney does something much different and paints a much darker world than was ever seen on television.
Although it would be interesting to read historical or pseudo-historical based novels featuring other Doctors than the First and the Second (as David A. McIntee's excellent Sanctuary featuring the Seventh Doctor proved) their natural home is with the earlier Doctors and the fact that this is a First Doctor historical based story is part of it's appeal.
The Man In The Velvet Mask is set between the television stories The Savages and The War Machines, and as such is very close to the Doctor's first regeneration in The Tenth Planet and the imminence of the Doctor's regeneration is a theme that O'Mahoney examines well. The Doctor is a frail old man, whose once fiery temperament is deserting him as his body begins to loose the battle to give into the Change that he can feel is coming. This culminates in a wonderfully written scene where the Doctor finds himself on the verge of regenerating but manages to hold off at the last minute before it happens.
Although this Missing Adventure was Dodo's first appearance in any Doctor Who book, since it's publication she has appeared in two of the BBC's Past Doctor Adventures series, namely Steve Lyons Salvation and Martin Day's Bunker Soldiers and certainly in the former she was very well characterised in what surprisingly turned out to be her debut story. In the few television stories that she featured which survive intact within the BBC archives, Dodo was not a particularly engaging character and had very little characterisation. This means that essentially Daniel O'Mahoney had a blank canvas with which to re-create her character through expanding on what little characterisation there was on screen. And with The Man In The Velvet Mask this has been done very well. From her very first appearance the substance that has been added to her is obvious. She's an uncertain character, unsure of herself and of her belief in the Doctor, whilst at the same time retaining a sense of innocence about her and this quality is something that the other characters see in her throughout the novel, but by the end of the novel will be gone. With her separated from the Doctor for almost the entirety of the novel, it allows for a detailed examination of her character through the relationship she builds with one of the actors she meets in Paris.
The Man In The Velvet Mask has a plethora of fascinating characters. From the sinister and brutal Citizen Minski, who has an iron grip over Paris, to the actors Bressac and Dalville and of course Monsieur Le 6 whose true identity remains a secret through much of the novel. Having so many well drawn characters within a single novel plays a significant contributing factor to the books overall success. The explanations behind the story proved to be a satisfying way to resolve the creation of the nightmare Paris.
O'Mahoney's writing is very skilful, pushing the story along at great pace which ensures that The Man In The Velvet Mask is an interesting and always enjoyable book. The tone of the book is far darker than you would expect from a First Doctor story but by playing deliberately against the type of story that is expected from this era of Doctor Who, the uniqueness of The Man In The Velvet Mask really shines through as a result. On the basis of this it's a pity that O'Mahoney hasn't written any more full length Doctor Who novels since The Man In The Velvet Mask was published as his distinctive style of writing and voice would be a welcome addition to the Eighth Doctors Adventures range.
Oh, just what we need. A Missing Adventure about the First Doctor that's 90% historical adventure. Let's face it, the Hartnell era was filthy with historical adventures. Maybe some of the later Doctors would benefit from this sort of story (remember Peter Davison in "Black Orchid?") but what would be really cool with Hartnell is seeing him in the 90's coping with the Information Age. Having him tussle with the Marquis de Sade is old hat.
And why, out of all the companions that the First Doctor had (and some of them were okay, even if they were all clones of Carol Ann Ford's Susan) why did O'Mahony include Dodo? Probably the most forgettable of companions, squeezed in between Steven Taylor and Ben & Polly, she was in...what?...three stories, total? And what's with that name? What do Doctor Who writers have against the name Dorothy (e.g. Ace = Dorothy McShane, Dodo = Dorothea Chaplet.)
Apparently, O'Mahony was not satisfied with just a historical adventure, so he did toss in a group of aliens, almost as an afterthought. Basically, the Doctor and Dodo land in Paris just after the Revolution (or, so they think) and immediately get separated as the Doctor is arrested for violated curfew. Dodo wanders off and hooks up with a traveling group of actors. Various mysteries unfold, such as the glass-and-steel tower that looms above an eighteen-century skyline, but really the novel degenerates into a mess. The aliens are observing Earth and have created a sort of virtual reality that got out of their control -- exactly what is happening is not clear.
The only really interesting part is the Doctor's illness, his infirmity and his knowledge of the coming regeneration. He doesn't want to lose this part of himself, so he's trying to hold onto it. Curiously, he only has one heart during this time; apparently, his regeneration enables the second heart to grow.
Other than that, this book is recommended for completists.