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Rip Tide

Telos Novella #6
Greg Bobak

“There’s a word for it, I suppose. When you’re in a place or a moment that is energised by a sense of inexplicable meaning. The word is, magic.” -- from the foreword by Stephen Gallagher

After complaining about the color of the previous novella (Foreign Devils), I was pleasantly surprised to see Rip Tide represented in a rich shade of navy blue. I love the elegant cover design, incidentally, of all the novellas - they’re the sorts of things you can read proudly on the train without a gigantic blue DOCTOR WHO glowing all over the car. But enough about the binding...

Stephen Gallagher’s foreword is a brilliant little piece about the impact and satisfaction of Doctor Who - he quite rightly understands that the most well-received Doctor Who episodes are those that have the air of the familiar about them. This, of course, comes from the man who wrote the story that most disproves that theory (Warriors’ Gate), but it’s a good point nonetheless. His discussion of emotional complexity is equally relevant. What sets this foreword apart from its predecessors: it’s both insightful and relevant to the story to follow.

Rip Tide is a bizarre Doctor Who story purely because of its format: it’s hardly a typical story - indeed, there aren’t even any bad guys - but it doesn’t fit any of the “modern” forms of Who either. The 8th Doctor seen here is a strange combination of his emotional self seen in the TVM and the early EDAs and the manipulative Virgin 7th Doctor. Yet he’s not even the main character - indeed, his appearances come only in the background for the first half the novella and even at the climax he’s hardly taken center stage.

But what a Doctor this is - whatever version of the Doctor Louise Cooper has created, she’s got him down perfectly. The change in costume fits perfectly - just as it was nice to see Davison in something different in Planet of Fire, so too is it nice here to envision McGann in flowing beachwear. The image of the eighth Doctor picking his way along the rocks, fooling around in tidepools with a (bright pink!) fishing net is so Doctorish it makes my heart soar - but yet so is the image of him seated nonchalantly in the corner of a restaurant, surreptitiously observing important events. I’d never thought of any of the Doctors as being particularly adept at blending in, yet here the eighth does exactly that.

The novella, however, isn’t even *about* the Doctor - it’s about 17-year-old Nina, which gives it the “young adult fiction” stigma. She’s incredibly well-presented, running the full scope of emotions sometimes in only one scene. Her reactions to events are perfectly human, and the Doctor’s rebukes, when coupled with his alien nature, feel almost parental in nature. Steve is almost as good, the only shortcoming in his characterization being his feelings for Ruth, which seem a bit disjointed and forced into the narrative.

It’s easy to brand this “young adult” fiction - the plot is straightforward and the themes revolve around owning up to your actions and being honest with your elders. Yet to dismiss it out of hand as such would be to ignore a fine piece of literature. Yes, the plot is simple and the prose straightforward, but look at the setting! It’s more rare than it should be for Doctor Who fiction to have perfectly-realized settings - Dave Stone built a fabulous culture in Citadel of Dreams, for example, but I couldn’t visualize the streets in my mind. Louise Cooper, on the other hand, has a perfect seaside town depicted here: the beaches feel like beaches, the houses feel like homes, etc. The characters are unbelievably real - Nina’s reactions to the Doctor and his nature seem perfectly natural, and yet can you honestly imagine what it would be like to be presented with the TARDIS in real life? Rendering those feelings convincingly is a testament to Cooper’s ability.

This is one of the most human Doctor Who works I’ve ever read. Gallagher is exactly right when he says that Doctor Who works perfectly with a sense of the ordinary about it, and Rip Tide takes that one step further. The reader is placed firmly with the story’s human component, and the bizarre alien influences include not only Ruth’s people but the Doctor himself. It’s rare that we try to relate to the Doctor from a purely human perspective, but Cooper brings it off effortlessly.

Better than Foreign Devils? Impossible to say, as they’re completely different styles of fiction, but Rip Tide’s rather lengthy 150 pages simply flew by - I read the novella in two sittings, and would have done it in one hadn’t real life interfered. Such simple, elegant, human stories rarely come along in Doctor Who, and they ought to be treasured, both for what they bring and for the talent required to create them in the first place.

Beautiful stuff.

Andy Kitching

The sixth in Telos Publishing’s excellent Doctor Who Novellas is, ‘Rip Tide’ by Louise Cooper. Cooper is new to the WHO fold and hopefully will remain within it, because, as has been the case with many other ‘Doctor Who virgins’ in this line of books she makes a rather splendid job.

The Eighth Doctor (supposedly fresh from the events of the TV Movie) is in Cornwall, England where the body of a man has been found in the sea makes him soon find himself investigating the actions and aims of a mysterious visitor to the village –‘Ruth’ who turns out to be an alien trapped on Earth. We see a change here with the Doctor wearing clothes which are appropriate - waterproofs, jeans and various summer hats. As the novella progresses, Ruth and the lifeboat member’s sister, Nina compare very nicely which makes it an even more interesting read.

Rip Tide is a simple tale which doesn’t abuse too much the old cliché setting of a sleepy village in England where evil is at work. Instead it pushes these boundaries further – emphasizing that Ruth is trapped in this very secluded area with nothing and no-one to turn to. The Doctor accompanied by Nina are soon on a trail to find Ruth and find out what her motives are and what she wants with Nina’s brother, Steve.

The books main protagonist – Nina is a very solid and interesting character and one which is instantly believable, she laughs, she cry’s and she moans. Writing from her point of view always makes the plot steam on ahead in pace and I’m sure Nina will be one of the most favorite book characters of 2003. The only snag I have with this character is that she fancies the Doctor….how many times are we going to see this?!

The Doctor really doesn’t get involved in the action until about half way through where from then on you see nothing but him mostly! This of course makes a very nice change indeed and is something which happened very rarely in the TV series, and when it did seemed to work out quite well then too.

With a tight amount of characters the plot may have benefited with more characters from the fishing community for instance or bigger parts for colleagues of Steve.

The book is a very good and entertaining read with plenty of light hearted points not to mention thought provoking too. The reader can instantly tell that Cooper has not watched the show either constantly or ‘too’ closely as it focuses mainly on the most prolific of the shows mythos and features, i.e TARDIS, aliens.

Steven Gallagher’s introduction sets you off for the journey very nicely and is possibly one of the best introductions yet in my opinion. Fred Gambino’s cover cover illustration however, does lead a lot to be desired though, for me it’s far too plain and just doesn’t set the mood of the piece. Previously we have seen illustrations of exciting and thrilling points in the story itself or images of the mysterious settings. Some bloke paddling about in the water simply doesn’t ‘do’ anything. A different title may have worked out better too I guess.

Although not the greatest in the line of Novellas so far, Rip Tide is a great read nonetheless and I would particularly recommend this to those ‘casual fans’ out there as it’s not too complex and doesn’t get confusing with continuity references etc – go out and buy it! Here’s for more Louise Cooper Doctor Who books, it’s her first attempt and a good one at that. It’s a must even though it may have a few let downs.

Chad Knueppe

That did it. Nina put the back of one hand to her mouth and made a choking sound, then before she could stop the impulse she had looked up and into his eyes. What she saw almost undid her completely. The Doctor was gazing at her with that bright, intent gaze she had come to know - and in that gaze was a wistful sadness that almost matched her own.

I absolutely enjoyed Riptide.

In the introduction, Stephen Gallagher suggests that “the greater sense of reality one works into a scenario, the more substantial the drama becomes. And the more substantial it is, the more affecting it can be.” This seems at first to be exceedingly obvious, but not necessarily when you admit that Doctor Who is, in fact, one of the most relentlessly escapist of Science Fiction franchises, most of the time. Doctor Who’s frontiers are limitless, indeed, in the potential to go anywhere and everywhere. And Jon Pertwee’s repeated point about there being more inherent horror in stories set close to home, like a Yeti on your loo, are quite relevant.

But, let’s face it. This is Doctor Who, not Star Trek. We don’t usually see the Doctor talking about his feelings, nor do we really want to. When we do get inside his head, as in the novella Ghost Ship, the conceit fails and the story utterly and miserably falls apart.

Though Doctor Who was more than just a auspicious critical success with its early historical adventures, accurate in detail as they were. But it was its ongoing “out there” tales that kept the show alive, its speculative imagination that kept it alive for so long. Doctor Who’s biggest success stories are often found in novels like Grimm Reality, which take the TARDIS crew into a world of Fairy Tales because is about the fantastic not the mundane. A story like Curriculum Vitae from Short Trips: Companions is all too rare. In the piece, an older Polly confronts her unexceptional existence in the mundane post-adventurous life of paying bills and being denied jobs. Doctor Who usually steers away from just this kind of “reality” because it is that which we fans are looking to Doctor Who to escape from in the first place.

Which is all the more reason why it’s remarkable just how delightfully invigorating Riptide turns out to be. The novella succeeds not because it is so traditionally grandiose and cosmic, but because it is earthbound and relateable. Riptide succeeds because it is both simple and honest. Louise Cooper writes for younger readers, and Riptide has a simplistic style not so far removed from the Terrance Dicks Target novels. The novel’s honesty springs forth from the first sentence in the novella, “Words cannot do justice to the reality of the sea’s power.” So rather than attempting to confound us with vast descriptions of the sea, Cooper turns to her characters to carry the piece. And though none of them resemble the “over the top” creations typical of Doctor Who, they do the job well in propelling the narative. The insecure hero longing for love, the younger sibling unheard through teen angst and the elder sea man are all more human than the sum of their stereotypes because we know them in their humanistic simplicity. That’s why Paul McGann’s Doctor works so well, because he does resemble the most affectingly human and innocent of the Doctors.

Though we don’t usually witness the Doctor’s inner emotions, we do know the passions that motivate him, and the integrity in which he desires things to be just and right. Though the setting might remind the reader of books like Storm Harvest of The Suns of Caresh, the comparison ends there. Riptide works because it is not typical Doctor Who. It’s a picture, a window, a brief earthly pause in the expansive epic. There are no villains, no monsters. Only real people with real problems, living their lives away, daydreaming and working, relating to each other. While the Doctor finds it easy to make an impression on a lonely and impressionable young girl, he doesn’t win over her older and reluctant brother until a conflict to save a life ensues. This seems more real than the Doctor’s accepted ability to win over strangers miraculously quickly, but his relationship to these people is more aversely hesitant thus more credibly humble.

In a universe of Daleks, Cybermen and Faction Paradox agents, it sometimes takes a simple book like this one for us to reflect upon just how far “out there” Doctor Who really is, how far away his adventures take us from reality. And just how close to reality the Doctor truly is at the same time, and how amid all his marvelous farcical adventures in time and space, at the heart is a simple being who we don’t quite understand. A simple being who doesn’t quite fit, but who nonetheless just wants to do the right thing, and to help us understand ourselves and appreciate each other. It’s true that Doctor Who is more traditionally apart from reality, but at its heart, in the end, it’s all about doing good. And certainly there is nothing more real than that.

Lawrence Conquest

Well, that was certainly unexpected.

Going by previous Telos titles and David Howe’s professed love of monsters I was all set for horrors from the deep – instead we get a bunch of alien tourists. Having no ‘bad guys’ at all in a book is a novel idea, but unfortunately it means that this story is all but devoid of drama. The alien tourists themselves are poorly realised, (if you were from a race of beings that find contact with water fatal why would you even come to rainy old England, let alone a seaside holiday in Cornwall?), and too vague to have any impact or believability.

Added to the lack of plot is the appallingly condescending writing style, with central misfit Nina providing the excuse for plenty of blatant moralising about teenage rebellion. If you though Ace was crudely handled, you aint seen nothing yet. Oh, and she fancies the Doctor – as if that hasn’t been done to death in the EDAs. The Doctor himself fares little better, as in order to rely on Nina he finds himself sidelined for most of the book, only to act like an idiot when he’s around.

>From plot construction to prose, the whole thing seems to be written for children – for the life of me I cannot understand why. How many 12 year olds are going to be buying expensive small press hardback novellas based on a long dead TV series? Or is this just intended to be a nostalgic ‘inner child’ trip for the rest of us to sit down and read a kids book? Up till now all of the Telos books have had some redeeming quality, if its not in the actual story then in original construction, but with such a basic story and style here for the first time I regret buying a title. Unless you know any moody 12 year olds, this is utterly, utterly pointless.

Finn Clark

Rip Tide isn't trying to be a literary masterpiece, but it's a solidly enjoyable eight out of ten. Instead of trying to take you away on wings of fancy, it keeps both feet squarely on the ground with a simple tale of an unglamourised Cornwall and characters who are just plain, ordinary people. Nowt wrong with that. This book's strengths are prosaic, but real. More than anything it reminded me of a Famous Five adventure, albeit grown up a little with added lifeboats. Teenage investigations! Mystery by the seaside! Thrilling japes on the clifftop! There's more to it than that, but it won't surprise anyone to learn that Louise Cooper has written children's fiction. However that's not a criticism, I hasten to add. The main characters are Steve and his sister Nina. Steve's a good, honest chap and a part-time lifeboatman, but Nina's a moody seventeen-year-old who has blazing rows with her parents and tries to manipulate those around her (not usually with success). It's not hard to empathise with these people. Nina will probably turn out to be one of the best characters in a 2003 Who book, though her eventual relationship with the Doctor was a little "been there, done that" for long-time Who readers. Nevertheless, their first real scenes together are lots of fun and one of the two highlights of the book. The 8th Doctor is good too, by the way. I've heard it said that he's the TVM version rather than any of the variants from audios, books or comic strips, but to be honest I thought he'd have fitted in fine with any of them. He gets some good scenes and is convincingly alien when viewed through Nina's all-too-human eyes. Admittedly he's a walk-on part until nearly halfway through, but for several reasons this works well. Firstly, holding back on the weirdness helps the book's everyday atmosphere. Secondly, we've too often seen an ineffective 8th Doctor faffing around in the BBC Books, whereas this is a more Virgin-like Doctor who only comes onstage when he actually has something to do. Thirdly, half a novella isn't long to wait. I liked it. (Oh, and this 8th Doctor wears hats.) I've mentioned one highlight already, the other of course being the lifeboats. I don't think there's anyone in Britain who's not aware of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but Rip Tide brings their work alive superbly. The sea touches everything in this book, often to devastating effect, and our glimpses of the lifeboat volunteers are thoroughly plausible and impressive. To be honest, that's the main thing Rip Tide has to offer which Doctor Who readers won't have seen before... we've all seen entertaining scenes of the Doctor winning over disbelieving humans or dealing with out-of-place things, but to see these lifeboats in action is an education. Oh, and Stephen Gallagher has written a fantastic introduction. This probably won't be anyone's favourite book of the year, but it should be in quite a few top fives. It's a good book. Not brilliant, but certainly not awful either.

Liam Copsey

I must admit that I had high expectations of this novella due to its experienced author, or so we’re told as I should confess to have never heard of one Louise Cooper, but that is neither here nor there as all, well nearly all, my hopes and expectations were fulfilled in abundance.

This story is a rarity in Doctor Who fiction as it has a big, big heart at its squishy centre and doesn’t include a real villain, only a slight threat. Yes that’s right, no villain. At all. The author obviously focuses more on characterisation and motives than usual, probably due to the lack of a villain and the fact she is a woman writer, if that sounds a tad sexist then I suppose it is.

The story is interesting, if predictable, but drives along at the right pace, with excellent description, especially near the book’s conclusion. The setting is very vivid and uses the sea setting to much greater effect than the feeble Ghost Ship ever did, making the ocean seem both powerful and mysterious and could almost class as one of the main characters in the story. And speaking of main characters, I was surprised at the Doctor’s pretty minimum involvement, although compared to the first two novellas I should be grateful, as I prefer the Doctor right in the thick of it, I mean what is the series called after all? Saying that, his characterisation was absolutely marvellous, much better than the BBC’s initial novels, showing great promise for the eighth Doctor’s future in the Telos range.

The narrative is genuinely moving, and the characters actions and motivations feel right and are very human, extremely delightful to read. In fact this entire book is a light and thought-provoking read (in an emotional way, not in a Dave Stone way), with real situations placed within a warped reality, which is how Cooper wanted it to be like, according to DWM’s preview interview with the author.

Oh, and I love the title and the frontispiece is simply magnificent.

A wonderfully written story, with just the right amount of ambiguity to keep the reader engaged, but not bored. A compassionate book, extremely recommended for those who fancy something sensitive and beautiful in equal amounts.