The reason I enjoyed THE EYE OF THE GIANT is almost certainly because I saw the name on the cover and adjusted my expectations accordingly. I knew to expect readable prose, shallow-to-middling characterizations, a straightforward plot and not much in the way of surprises. That's what I expected, and that's what I got. And I liked it. It won't win any awards, but if you're looking for something that just entertains, you could do a lot worse.
"I could imagine this one actually being filmed in the 1970s" is often used as a complaint about a book that hasn't reached the full potential that the written word offers. Yet while that statement is applicable here, I don't see it as a disadvantage on this occasion. THE EYE OF THE GIANT invokes the spirit of the era without rehashing the same material.
There's not really much to talk about here. The plot is adequate, not being overly flashy, fancy, complicated or deep. However, I'll give it a lot of credit for being entertaining, which I expect is all the author was attempting. Of course, on the downside, there's a couple of really odd false endings, where it seems that the story has ended and then it jerks to life unconvincingly like a dead celebrity reanimated for a beer commercial. The book would have been a lot stronger had these additions to the end been removed.
On the subject of the book's cast, well, let me say that I doubt whether Bulis has ever written an entirely three-dimensional character in his life. But he's written much worse caricatures before, and his original characters here perform their functions adequately. His depiction of the UNIT cast as it existed in the show's seventh season I found surprisingly effective. He doesn't provide any superior insights into the era, but he does invoke it well with very few paint-strokes.
It gets a little fanwanky at times (Captain Yates first meets the Doctor), but overall I enjoyed this one. I may not remember many details about it a year from now, yet for the few days it took me to plow through it, I cannot deny that I was having a good time.
It's as if World Distributors published a novel. The Eye of the Giant is enjoyable, but in the same high-concept, low-rent way we saw in Dr Who annuals.
Let's start with the biggest problem: the author's name. Only the most generous reviewer could call Christopher Bulis a novelist. He can plot with the best of 'em, but his published books seem to be crying out for four-colour illustrations and five words to a page. They feel like the result of a fortnight's work at most. Eye of the Giant's first forty pages are like an endurance test for masochists. Reading equals pain. Wooden characters lurch through the motions, clunking out thought processes that wouldn't convince a three-year-old. I was on the point of surrender.
But then the plot kicked in. If you whisk through at speed, overlooking the characterisation, there's fun to be had here. Everything's high-concept, especially the cast. They may be one-dimensional stereotypes, but this makes them instantly recognisable: the Gold Digger, the Selfish Scientist, the Sweet Young Girl, the Movie Producer... you know where you stand with Bulis. Subtext? Who needs subtext?
The setting and the aliens make my World Distributors parallel positively spooky. In 1934, millionaire Hollywood producer Marshal J. Grover lands on a legendary lost island of giant ants, snakes, crabs and bats. It's King Kong! Okay, there's no giant ape or chanting natives, but otherwise there's no point of deviation. I also liked the aliens, which are a bit wackier than usual. Brokk the Grold is an eighteen foot tall stone Cyclops who need temperatures of 200+ degrees and can hardly stand Earth's gravity. Meanwhile the Semquess are bio-engineering deep sea squid, kinda like the aliens in John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes. At atmospheric pressures we consider normal, they explode.
If you're in the right mood, you can have a ball with this. If read at speed, the plot carries you along effortlessly and even has a few good twists. I even laughed a few times. This may not be the most heavyweight book in the world, but I'd choose it over any Baxendale you'd care to name. I admire the Doctor's improvised time travel machine, which is more entertaining and more faithful than a handwaved TARDIS trip during Season Seven. Apart from anything else, it's vital for the plot. And Amelia Grover is genuinely sweet... okay, Bulis lays it on a bit thick at times (e.g. the Amelia-Nancy scenes) but I fell for her. The missing arm is a nice touch too.
There's little more to say. It's like a novel-length World Distributors story. Bulis's shortcomings as a novelist mean that he tends to stand or fall by his plots, which has made for gruesome results (Twilight of the Gods) and, worse, forgettable ones (A Device of Death, Shadowmind, The Ultimate Treasure). However I genuinely enjoyed this. If you're not in the mood for literature and can force yourself through the first forty pages, it's lively fun.
In the year 1934, the private yacht Constitution III arrived at a small, almost unknown island named Salutua, off the French Polynesias. It carried Marshal Grover, the owner of Paragon Studios; his attractive, self-centered movie-star wife Nancy; and his pleasant, intelligent and somewhat pious daughter, Amelia. Besides the film crew and a rather drunken Douglas Fairbanks-ish leading man, the yacht carried a couple of scientists intent on cataloguing the strange flora of this deserted isle, which seems to be almost invisible unless you happen to be right on top of it...
About forty years later, the Third Doctor, exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, is recovering from his ordeal with the Inferno Project and his accident journey into a fascistic parallel world. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, commanding officer of the British section of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce and the Doctor's nominal employer, hands the Doctor a fragment of what appears to be a ceramic alloy of extraterrestrial origin. Utilizing the space-time visualizer (last seen in "The Chase"), the Doctor, with his assistant Elizabeth Shaw, determine that the fragment came to be in its present form some forty years ago...on a small island that apparently no longer exists.
By linking the TARDIS console to the visualizer, the Doctor and Liz are able to step through this "time bridge" into the past. They meet with Grover and his party, who are beset by all manner of giant beasts, from three-foot ants to six-foot crabs to enormous bats. Their search for the source of the extraterrestrial is hampered by the machinations of the actress Nancy, who wants off the island, and by one of the scientists, who wants to stay at all costs.
Meanwhile, back in the present, the Brigadier is tearing his moustache out regarding the Doctor and Liz's absence, when reports of ghostly apparations pour in from all over the world. Sending in first Mike Yates, then Benton and a squad of UNIT troops, the Brigadier tries getting the Doctor back to deal with a world seemingly going askew.
Unfortunately, the e.t. who is at the center of all the island's mysterious is awoken. It seems that this creature, Brokk by name, stole samples of gene-altering drugs from a race called the Semquess, masters of biochemistry. Quite understandably, these people want their serums back, and are not very particular about who gets in the way. Brokk forces the Doctor to help him by mentally enslaving Nancy and another member of the yacht party; meanwhile, Benton has to fend off the marauding Semquess battletanks.
Of course, even when things seem to work out to a satisfactory conclusion, the return of the Doctor & Company to the present time shows that, somehow, things have gone horribly wrong anyway...
Christopher Bulis has written a tale that fits in perfectly with the established Who mythos (in this case, right between "Inferno" and "Terror of the Autons.") The Third Doctor's exile to Earth in the twentieth century is one of the most fascinating eras of Doctor Who history (ironic, considering the fact that the decision to keep the Doctor Earth-bound was an economic one) and any insight into this period is quite welcome. Especially as this particular volume gives us one more adventure with Liz Shaw, an assistant of rather short tenure but one who is fondly remembered by fans today. The Doctor's feeling of "temporal claustrophobia" is presented well; while never abandoning his altruistic goals of solving the mystery, his agenda of outwitting the Time Lords' sentence is never far from his mind.
A nice supporting cast is on hand for this adventure. Besides the ever-commanding Brigadier and the stalwart lads of UNIT, there is also the party from the yacht. A sly homage to King Kong abounds here, as the filmmakers try to cash in on that film's popularity (as this supposedly takes place the year after Kong was released, this is an especially nice touch). The feuding between Nancy and her "stepdaughter" Amelia is kept to a light touch, never actually going overboard with melodrama. The film director De Veer, the Fairbanks clone Michael Montgomery and the cinematographer Dodgson are occasionally played for comic relief, but some care has gone into shaping these characters beyond simple caricature (the Montgomery role fairly begs for Peter Jurasik!)
This novel is very reminiscent of the early Pertwee period of seven-episode adventures. The "false ending" is especially evocative of those stories (although this book does tend to play better than some of those. No offense to the recently-departed Mr. Pertwee, but "The Ambassadors of Death" could replace NyQuil). For those fans wishing to relive the early Seventies epoch of Doctor Who, this book is a natural choice.