A truly classic and innovative Doctor Who from the Seventh Doctor/Ace era. The plot revolves around the Nuclear tests for the atom bomb in the Nevada desert. The story is penned by Who Writer Supremo Andrew Cartmel, and I believe truly reflects the artistic direction the series would have taken in the 90's. Clever, innovative and edgy thrillers with a 20th century setting.
As well as being a great Doctor Who, it also has a really nice cover too.
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Andrew Cartmel has ‘previous form’ with Doctor Who novels, having written a trilogy of fairly experimental 7th Doctor adventures for Virgin’s old New Adventures range. After a long time away this new novel (quite possibly the final release in the BBC’s long-running series of paperback original Who novels) finds him writing in a very different style, with a fairly basic story which features the Doctor and Ace at the centre of virtually every scene. The first half of the novel, where the Doctor and Ace go undercover to investigate mysterious goings on surrounding the test detonation of the first nuclear bomb, is readable and generally enjoyable stuff, despite some rather broad supporting characters. Sadly Cartmel seems to lose the plot in the second half, with the appearance of an extraterrestrial that – while admittedly colourful – does nothing to move the plot forward at all, and the revealed bad guys plot involving harnessing the power of a destroyed universe to somehow make the Japanese rulers of Earth throughout the multiverse (don’t ask how – its never explained) is risible. For the most part a pleasant enough unchallenging read, but ultimately the plot is just too nonsensical to take seriously.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Cartmel by Pertwee19 Feb. 2006
Jason A. Miller
- Published on Amazon.com
When I first bought this book, I expected an anti-American screed, a thinly-veiled critique of George W. Bush's Iraq catastrophe. After all, it's about the Manhattan project; it's got a dead Japanese face on the cover with a mushroom cloud where the mouth should be. "The Green Death" thinks this cover is subtle. The author's dedication to someone who "redeemed America in my eyes" certainly didn't make the book sound fair and balanced. I remember Andrew Cartmel's earlier "Who" novels, the War trilogy from the 7th Doctor New Adventures, as in-your-face and politically edgy. While I appreciated the scope of Cartmel's earlier novels, I never considered myself a fan.
Much to my surprise, then, "Atom Bomb Blues" did not read much like any of the books in Cartmel's War trilogy. Nor did it read much like the stories Cartmel oversaw during his three years as "Doctor Who" TV script editor. The most common feature was Cartmel's ethnically diverse take on the Whoniverse. Our look at the Manhattan Project is initially through the eyes of J. Robert Oppenheimer's Mexican cook, the first character the Doctor befriends. Later, the Doctor sneaks off campus to commune with three Apache Indians: in the desert, they build a campfire, share peyote, and sing "The Ballad of Ira Hayes". All right, they only did two of those three things.
What struck me, though, is that this book is structured more like one of the six-part TV stories from the Barry Letts era. Maybe I caught the resemblance only because I watched the DVD release of "The Claws of Axos" the same week that I read "Atom Bomb Blues". But there's also this: the book opens in Los Alamos, where the Doctor poses as an eminent scientist, and lectures the other nuclear physicists on responsibility to mankind (Edward Teller is a bad guy, here). I can imagine Jon Pertwee doing a lot with this material.
Of course, Barry Letts would never allow such a setup to last much longer than Episode Two. He'd get bored with the straight science, much as Cartmel gets bored with the Wikipedia.org data dumps on Oppenheimer's boyhood and previous marriages. So, halfway through, time to bring out psychedelic sets and over-the-top villains. The Doctor detours out into space, to visit a day-glo UFO with strange organic creatures lurking inside. Again, maybe I shouldn't have read this the same week I watched "Claws of Axos". There is a celebrity cameo by an American musician that is simply not to be believed. Finally, the action concludes with a wacky shootout in a stately Los Angeles manor.
I enjoyed "Atom Bomb Blues": it defied my expectations, and made a few clever plays on words. The historical atom bombs in question were named "Fat Man" and "Little Boy". The book's main guest star is an (intentionally) anachronistic physicist, Ray Morita, who is both a fat man and a little boy, in appearance and motivation. Another neat play on words is the book's fictional Los Alamos security chief, Major Butcher. You'd expect that an American assigned to the atom bomb project, with a name like "Butcher", to be rather an obvious caricature. Instead, Butcher gets a lot to do, and doesn't end the book in the manner I expected.
As it stands, this may be the last in a line of paperback "Doctor Who" novels that began life in 1991 as the New Adventures. DW books are still published, but now as hardcover novels based on the Russell T. Davies series, and aimed at a younger audience. As a book with both a high camp factor and a serious moral message, "Atom Bomb Blues" is not the worst way to conclude 15 years of novels too broad and deep for the small screen.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An entertaining way to wait for the next DVD release21 Aug. 2007
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Atom Bomb Blues, like many of the other Past Doctor Adventures, is pleasant for its decent adherence to characterization of the Doctor and Ace. Ace is neither belittled, hypersexualized, nor too far outside the "sphere" of the companion. The novel dragged a bit in early sections, forcing Ace to ask far too many, "But I don't understand, Doctor" type questions in order to do an exposition dump that, frankly, should be unnecessary for any reader who is even mildly historically literate. But things pick up when the sci-fi weirdness quotient kicks in. We have mathematics as magic of sorts here, but that's a standard Whovian trick, and so doesn't bug too much. Definitely some fun moments (although the dragon lady/lotus flower dichotomy used at one point is a bit much to stomach), nice dialog, and an engaging plot. Worth a read.
The hippest, heppest tattle of that war jive you'll ever lay your peepers on, daddy-o.26 Oct. 2013
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And here we are. Much like he got to be on board when the show was ushered into early retirement (or past-its-prime retirement, depending on your perspective) back in the faraway days of 1989, here former script editor and alleged masterplanner comes back to see the original BBC paperback line of original novels to bed. I don't know if it was planned that way or Cartmel's was just the last one in the desk drawer but there is a certain poetry to it, intentional or otherwise.
Seeing Cartmel's name attached to the last novel, and featuring the Seventh Doctor no less, probably got a lot of people's hopes up that we would see hints of what had once been called "The Cartmel Masterplan", a rumored overarching sensibility that was supposed to have informed the show's last few seasons by making the Doctor a mysterious character again. There's debate as to whether any of this actually made it into the show in a coherent fashion, but the Virgin New Adventure authors took the whatever-the-British-call-a-pigskin and ran with it, culminating in Marc Platt's "Lungbarrow", whose Gothic atmosphere surrounding the enigmatic Seventh Doctor now feels as far removed from this novel as the new series compares to the old, "classic" one. If there ever was a masterplan, so to speak, it seems to have run its course and there's not even a whiff of it here. Instead Cartmel seems interested in telling us a story about the Doctor and Ace from the old days, before she went and got all growed up and the Doctor got all dark and more manipulative than a Borgia convention. There's no hints as to when the story takes place, but it seems to be before "Survival" and probably even earlier given how green Ace seems at this whole thing.
For our last Past Doctor outing, our heroes show up at Los Alamos to help with the research for the atomic bomb, hanging out with all the other wacky scientists who are planning on creating a weapon that will slaughter tons of people in the name of science (this must be before "Remembrance of the Daleks", which means we miss out on the chance to savor the delicious irony). The Doctor has managed to get himself attached to this little coterie and thanks to a super fish-oil, turned Ace into human calculator so she can be useful and not have to sit back in a hut knitting. It doesn't take too long before it becomes clear that something is going on, as the super-hip physics genius Cosmic Ray Morita seems oddly out of place and not because he seems to be calling people "hep-cats" unironically about five years too early, military snoop Major Butcher is constantly looking for saboteurs and, er, the Doctor is hanging out here so it seems that something must be going on.
I've rarely seen any of these novels that coast for so long without there being an immediate threat. It doesn't even become clear until two-thirds of the novel is gone what the stakes even are, who the villains are, or how they even plan on accomplishing anything. In the meantime, the Doctor has enough of a handle on things that we can be assured that something is going to happen but for the most part it seems to be scenes designed purely to kill time or show off the research that Cartmel did on atomic bombs or jazz or Apaches. Ace, surprisingly, comes across as amazingly dumb here, whether she's dressed for the wrong occasion (a joke about her mistaking Los Alamos for the Alamo is stretched out to absurdity, seemingly only to make her seem like a colossal idiot . . . I can't imagine she would dress like that anyway, even if they did go to where she initially thought) or claiming complete ignorance about what a "G-man" is (one of the many occasions where the plot stops so he can patiently explain to her about something that anyone over twelve would probably know). It's refreshing in a way that he didn't go for the old standby of having her blow stuff up but for the most part she's really only here to ask questions and tag along.
Cartmel does have a way of keeping the pages turning, mostly by keeping the mystery just out of focus so that we're wondering what the heck is really going on and even if his Ace suffers by more than a few IQ points, he's version of the Doctor remains the chess-playing hero we all remember without going to the morally grey lengths other writers would take it, he's a mix of humor and alien, the intelligent fellow who gets by via knowing more than anyone else but never quite seeming that way when you face him head-on. Cartmel's other characters also do fairly well, with Major Butcher moving thisclose to the cliche of a bumbling military mind one step behind the Doctor but also being oddly effective in his own way, and sympathetic for being an honorable man doing his job but being way out of his depth. Cosmic Ray pushes the "hip" vibe way too far afield to be comfortable and I'm not sure if Cartmel thought his line of cool patter was funny or he's just highlighting how out of place he is by shooting so the people in the cheap seats can hear. He does get one funny scene where he shocks the staid people of the 1940s by exposing them to the edgy music of the future . . . Duke Ellington, although Cartmel overplays this by making Ace also an old-school jazz fan and then having the characters run into Mr Ellington himself, who apparently has an appetite that could bankrupt a supermarket chain. Between that and the digression with the UFO you get the sense that Cartmel had all these scenes he wanted to write and didn't know where else to put them (and to be fair, the combination we get here would have had no better chance to work anywhere but "Doctor Who", frankly).
But eventually we do get back to the threat at hand and when it does appear the book decides to take a vacation from sanity and go abruptly mental, as a husband and wife cultist team with alternate universe Japanese saboteurs to make a sacrifice that will save valuable jazz recordings and also murder an entire plane of existence. As goofy as all that sounds, it's not all that far off from what actually happens. Fortunately it doesn't take up too much of the book but even considering we spent the last two hundred pages hanging out with physics nerds, aliens and finger-poppin' daddies, it almost pushes the book to the point of "okay, enough of this". The focus once again on alternate universes (right after the last book did, although we don't see it this time) either precognitively predicts the new series Cybermen story or hints at some kind of weird crossover between all the Doctors that we never got to see. The villain's plan, in the time honored tradition of the best "Who" antagonists, makes not a lick of sense (something even the Doctor acknowledges) and while it's probably good that the main evil-doers don't appear until it's almost done to avoid giving them a chance to wear out their welcome, it makes their attempt at a culmination seem less a climax and instead just another thing for the book to overcome. The fact that the Doctor seems to have planned for everything in advance makes you wonder if he doesn't just watch the DVD of his own adventures and take notes. It also resolves pleasantly enough, with all hints of moral complexity pushed to the side and everything neatly explained, just in time for the Doctor and Ace to ride off into the sunset, this time for the final time.
Despite all the flaws in the story, I can't bring myself to despise it and there's really nothing awful in it (unless you count every line of Cosmic Ray's dialogue, and I'm still hoping that's deliberate). It's the kind of story they used to make, not challenging but fun in its way and perhaps that's what was really needed here. There was no reason to break the mold in the last story, just something to give a warm fuzzy feeling before it was tucked away for a little rest. And that's what he accomplished here. With the show beginning to surge again on television, there was no reason to treat this as an end of an era, especially with the new era already in full swing. There would be no more Past Doctor adventures after this, as the line went to a more young adult focus on "current" Doctors and any side adventures would come as big hardcovers written by big SF names. But I'll miss these scrappy books all the time, for giving us adventures that were both comfort food and thoughtful, for teaching us author names to look out for and to avoid, for existing in that vast desert between televised versions and giving people a little spark of "Who" when there was no reason to suspect we'd be seeing anything new again. Chances are we won't see the likes of this for a while but as the youngest old Doctor once said, "Yes, I shall come back." I'm not going to pretend they were all top of the line in quality but in their little ways they were worth it all the same. And for me personally it's the end of a six-plus year attempt to read every one of these and write about them, which to not have any more to look forward to is weird in itself. But it was fun and thanks to anyone who did read them (more people than I realized, sometimes), anyone who ever dropped a note to comment on them and if anyone ever found them at all helpful, bless you, because I'm pretty sure that was an accident.