Have you ever wondered why all the spaceships in the future have doors made of wood? Are you irate about the lack of alien invasions of Birmingham? Has the thought ever occurred to you that the Master's plans are so ludicrously intricate it's a wonder she has time to bathe?

Well I have.

And I'm going to write about it.


Friday, 3 June 2016


Like Eric Roberts' Master, I am alive and will happily repeat the fact to lead into commercial breaks.

Things to note in my absence:

1. My absence from blogging about Doctor Who is barely noticeable.
2. I am bad at freelancing.
3. I have started watching the Fifth Doctor stories again to see if I will like them more this way. So far I've only watched Castrovalva, and if anything it makes the Sixth Doctor look positively rapid in terms of getting to the bloody story. Once they actually get there it's really good though. Something more detailed and less binary will be written later.

Finally, I have contributed to a charity fan-fiction anthology.

It's called Time Shadows. It has a website and everything. Consider buying it, why don't you?

Friday, 11 September 2015

Den of Geek: The Doctor and the Master's Friendship

The Doctor and the Master are clearly best friends who've had a falling out and are now playing an elaborate game where they pretend to be enemies. Discuss.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What Can a Dalek Story Do?

I wrote a thing for Den of Geek examining what it is about Dalek stories people enjoy, their storytelling potential, and whether the show has ultimately undermined their purpose.

This makes it sound cleverer than it actually is.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Engines of War

I went to the library and got some Doctor Who books. The first one I read was George Mann's Engines of War.

Depicting the Time War is difficult. There is a fixed end, a lot of isolated details, but mainly Russell T. Davies described it through suggestion, with names full of potential and possibilities. Millions of people carry versions of it in their head, and so to be given the task of writing what will most likely be the BBC novel of it must’ve been a daunting task.

George Mann’s Engines of War plays it safe. For fans who are unfamiliar with the numerous spin-off fictions of the Nineties and Noughties, it may provide some novelty, but otherwise it’s a novel cut from similar cloth as John Peel’s War of the Daleks or Terrance Dicks’ The Eight Doctors. It doesn’t seek to retcon as those books did, but its does indulge itself in continuity references. Despite a scale and morality lifted from the post-2005 series, the plot and complexity of characterisation are reminiscent of Terry Nation.

The Doctor arrives on the planet Moldox and meets Cinder. Cinder has been fighting the Daleks all her life, and teams up with the Doctor as his new companion. Despite knowing little but warfare, Cinder is so lacking in flaws as to be almost a parody of the contemporary Feisty but Empathetic companion. She is nothing more than what the plot needs her to be, more so than Clara ever was in Series 7. The overall idea of two soldiers relating to each other makes sense, but Cinder witnesses horrors and then unfailingly rationalises them until the Doctor is right.

Cinders is reminiscent of no other character in fiction so much as Baxter from Anchorman. She not only cuts to the core of the Doctor, but absolutely every unsettling situation she finds herself in. She’s too good to be true. Of course, she isn’t true, but you’re not supposed to be reminded of that every time we’re privy to her point-of-view. Plus she is described as ‘so human’ several times, an incredibly overused adjective that should take an indefinite hiatus from the show.

Then there’s John Hurt’s War Doctor. How does his character fare in an extended outing?

Rather generically.

There’s little to distinguish him from any other Doctor apart from his appearance. Mann has occasional moments of weariness and great age, but this is no different from any other characterisation of the Doctor since about 1989. This War Doctor starts the novel leading a Time Lord attack on a Dalek fleet, but otherwise he’s no different from the man snoozing on Brighton beach or demanding Fish Fingers and Custard.

There’s no demonstration here of this being the Doctor who ‘broke the code’ or became a warrior, and as such he starts the novel most of the way to becoming who he is at its end: a mildly tetchy but mainly cuddly incarnation who shows no distinguishing features whatsoever, and doesn’t linger long in the memory.

This is part of an overall problem with the book: it doesn’t use one word when three will do. Do you remember this line from Warriors Of The Deep: ‘That can’t be so. A creature strong enough to destroy the probe does not exist’?

Imagine a whole book written like that. Nobody says ‘But those probes are indestructible!’ in Engines Of War, including a man who has undergone immense torture and lives in constant pain. You’d think he’d be into brevity, but no. There is no dialogue in this book that’s memorable in a good way, and the prose is similarly unengaging. While Mann's short story in Tales of Trenzalore was seamlessly plotted, it's worth comparing his writing to the stories surrounding it: Justin Richards especially has a zeal to his descriptions and nails the Eleventh Doctor's speech patterns. Mann's Doctor could be any of them.

The overall effect is a story that doesn’t manage to do anything new despite its potential. Still, that doesn’t automatically make something bad, it limits the ways in which the novel can be good. Here, however, Mann or his editor have included reams of exposition, some of which are repeated throughout the book in case we’d forgotten something from eighty pages ago. This not only includes the plot of this book, but also previous TV stories, and the back stories of several characters who appear in them.

If this was aimed at putting newer readers onto the old series, that’d be great, but these aren’t hints or lures to previous stories. Huge sections of the plot are explained, the overall effect being to spoiler newcomers and make other fans confused as to why the Doctor seems to be offering a one page synopsis of Genesis Of The Daleks. This is not a novel that offers nuanced characters speaking normally, and has a few moments of progressing the plot by stupidity rather than character (although, to be fair, in one case it manages to do both).

The plot of the book, incidentally, is that the Doctor has to stop the Daleks from winning the war, but stop the Time Lords from becoming more like the Daleks in the process. You know this, because it gets repeated several times in no uncertain terms.

While Mann does have some neat ideas in there, these are again familiar ones in the wider world of Doctor Who (there’s something straight from an Alan Barnes comic strip, and numerous elements homages from The Stolen Earth and The End Of Time). Old ideas being re-used isn’t inherently bad, but the way they’re deployed isn’t engaging, and often something already exists in Doctor Who that would fulfil the same story function. The Skaro Degradations summarise this neatly, being a great idea badly realised, and arguably unnecessarily used when normal Daleks would work just as well.

As a result I’d consider getting this book for a new series fan. There’s plenty of action and some nice twists before the end, but by overdoing and repeating its exposition it’s also patronising. If you’re into continuity references this is an indulgent nostalgia fest, but if you were excited at the possibilities that a novel about the Time War offered, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Here’s hoping Mann does better work with his contribution to the Seasons of War charity anthology.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014