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Andrew McCaffrey (Satellite of Love, Maryland)

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Doctor Who: Infinity Race
Doctor Who: Infinity Race
by Simon Messingham
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Pace-Eater, 16 Jun. 2003
Due to a variety of reasons, I found myself with a long gap between the publication of this book and my eventual perusal. During that pause, Internet opinion had pretty much decided that THE INFINITY RACE was a hugely disappointing clunker at the end of what had been a breathtaking and fantastic year for the Eighth Doctor Adventures. So, when I did start reading this book, it was with some slight trepidation. At first, it appeared that my anxiety was misplaced. The beginning drew me in, tempted my appetite and consistently impressed me; I couldn't fathom why it was receiving such negative press. But by the time I got to the end, I found that the book had fizzled somewhat. While it's certainly not what I would consider terrible, it does seem to be lacking a certain something that would raise this book above the level of ordinary.
The story opens with an invitation of sorts left over from the previous EDA (Justin Richards' TIME ZERO). Sabbath lures the Doctor and friends to one of the biggest races in the galaxy: a regatta situated on the ocean-planet Selonart (a name that I was certain was a joke or a reference to something else, but I have so far failed at figuring out what that is). These competitions reach a galaxy-wide audience, in part because of the strange properties present in the oceans of this world. The water is mostly frictionless and "light", and specially designed ships can travel on the seas at speeds unheard of on Earth.
The special attributes of the water on Selonart allow Simon Messingham to delve into some hard science-fiction concepts, though thankfully he doesn't dive in too deep. Messingham produces some good old-fashioned nautical adventuring without too much in the way of distracting technobabble. The opening sections that take place primarily on the yachts are genuinely thrilling and exciting. Messingham's skills of being able to construct a good horror sequence (which were on display on the underrated and creepy THE FACE-EATER) are put to good use in these portions, giving us some sharp and unsettling prose.
Many people have commented on the narrative voice(s) used in this book, usually saying that they found it distracting or unpleasant. My reaction was the complete opposite. I loved the actual process of reading this book. The jokes were funny, the action sequences executed smoothly, and the plot was laid out competently. But yet, I'm still not exactly sure why everything didn't seem to feel quite right by the end. I'd been drawn in to the narrative, but not into the rest of the story. I found the actual sentences and paragraphs to be deceptively adept at getting me to keep turning the pages. And I can't deny that the storyline of the book was similarly impressive and interesting. But somewhere along the line, Messingham lost my interest.
The characters are another aspect of this book that I can't say that I loved or hated. There's enough material present for me to want to keep reading about them, but there's not quite enough for me to say that they were three-dimensional characters in their own right. That said, the narrative first-person switches to Fitz and Anji's viewpoints were extremely well done. I really would like to see more of this sort of thing in the Doctor Who books. The companions are almost always designed to be our identification points, so it's nice to get inside their heads once in a while. Messingham does a terrific job at keeping the characters distinct, consistent and genuine. Even as I find myself growing weary of Fitz, books like this one make me want to see the current team go on together for a long time.
Ultimately, I can indeed say that I found THE INFINITY RACE to be a vaguely decent read. As in Messingham's previous EDA, his prose did a wonderful job of building tension within individual scenes. Unlike that book however, the whole just didn't quite hang together enough for me. Given all that I liked about this book, I really should have enjoyed the total experience more than I did -- but I didn't. And it's a shame, because there's much here to appreciate.


The Pit (New Doctor Who Adventures)
The Pit (New Doctor Who Adventures)
by Neil Penswick
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How bad is it?, 6 Jan. 2003
"Outside, the poet turned to the Doctor and raged at him. Why had they gone into that building, asked a stupid question and then left? It didn't make sense." -- THE PIT, page 149.
What in the name of God was that? Having read for years about how The Pit is supposedly the worst Doctor Who book ever written, I must admit that I approached it with a slight degree of trepidation. Still, I wondered to myself whether this book could really be as bad as all that. Surely there's no book on Earth that could possibly be as hideous as The Pit's shocking reputation would have one believe, right?
Reading the first page was an enlightening experience. The prose revealed here is among the worst that I have ever encountered. The sentences are jerky and disjointed. A sense of proper flow, which is so important to engaging reader interest, is virtually nonexistent. Every character's point of view and every character's speech patterns were all virtually identical with the form of the narrative. This didn't seem like a book populated by people, but rather a story inhabited by a mob of faceless plot devices, having no motivation of their own other than to do haphazard things to develop the story. The quote at the beginning of this review is unfortunately typical. People wander around for no good reason, say stupid things and then move on to the next plot point. It doesn't make sense, and no motivation is ever explained or revealed. Actually having a character point out the silliness of their motivations is no excuse for having characters with silly or no motivations.
Neil Penswick's choice of prose style did a fantastic job at holding me away from the plot. Working out the storyline required quite a lot of effort on my part simply because of the numbing nature of the writing. Yet there were portions of the plot that showed a flickering of potential but, for the most part, they sadly went underdeveloped. A few set-pieces here and there show a glimmer of what could have been an interesting tale. One can imagine a really superior wordsmith doing some marvelous work developing some of the ideas present. Unfortunately, the potentially good ideas fail to shine in the way that they should have.
The tone of the book is actually fairly consistent throughout its entirety. This is a dark and disturbing tale with no happy endings, no humour and no enlightening emotions. It succeeds at being a book without hope and without promise. Had the book made me care about any of its characters, it probably would have been quite powerful. Since I could barely distinguish one person from another, I could hardly care if any of them lived or died. A huge waste considering that the depressing nature of the story is one of the only things here that is handled surprisingly well.
After completing the book, I realized that I hadn't hated it as much as other people have, nor did I abhor it as much as I thought I would from reading the first few chapters. Make no mistake, I'm not recommending this as anything remotely resembling a good book, but it does have moments where one can see a few gems peeking through the mud. A pity though that the gems are mostly glass and the mud is far too thick and smelly to encourage one to wade through it. Every want-to-be author should definitely check out this book if they want to know how not to write quality prose.


Blood Harvest (Doctor Who New Adventures)
Blood Harvest (Doctor Who New Adventures)
by Terrance Dicks
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No surprises, 6 Jan. 2003
There are two items on the cover of BLOOD HARVEST that should tell every Doctor Who fan exactly what to expect. The first is the extremely silly looking vampire that's being repelled by Benny holding a flashlight. The second, of course, is the name Terrance Dicks. Terrance Dicks doesn't really surprise us too much these days. We know what sorts of stories he tells, and the only unknown variable in his equation is how promising the execution will be rather than what level of ambition he'll be aiming at. Fortunately, BLOOD HARVEST, while far from being his best work, is an enjoyable enough romp through Chicago mobs of the 1920's and several previous Doctor Who adventures.
As the story begins, the Doctor and Ace are running a rather generic speakeasy in 1929 Chicago. References to mob movies (and, oddly, Casablanca) abound, and what the narrative lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in entertainment. The Doctor's tavern is only a cover while he investigates some strange goings-on in the area, but the sequences concerning the local politics and crime are far and away the more enjoyable sections. The supposed science-fiction element to the story is neither inspired nor adequately explained and comes purely as an interruption to the fun pulp novel that's being told. It's really a pity that Dicks decided not to have the Doctor running the speakeasy just for the sheer hell of it. It would have eliminated the need to have a lot of the non-Chicago scenes, which do have a dragging effect during the rest of the book. For a story that steams ahead at times purely by sheer entertainment and fun, it's oddly jarring when the author tries (and fails) to tie things up into a logical and boring little point.
Benny spends most of the adventure being digitally inserted into location footage from STATE OF DECAY and wandering through those studio sets (while there's unfortunately no Tom Baker nibbling on this dusted-off scenery, there's also no Matthew Waterhouse which comes as no small relief). Other reviewers have complained of the story merely rehashing the adventures that have come before, and while I can't totally disagree with this point of view, I feel that the case has been somewhat overstated. For me, the beginning of the Benny subplot served as a needed reminder of the main events of the previous story. Unfortunately, there is a case for pointing out that the later sections tend to simply repeat the previous story more often than they build anything new. Strangely enough, the portions that do invent new material do so by getting several details about the previous serial wrong. In these passages, Dicks was probably being far more creative than he realized.
Terrence Dicks has always subscribed to the idea of never writing four words when one will suffice. But at the conclusion to this story he takes that philosophy to extreme lengths: never write a concluding chapter, when a sentence will do. The final thirty-five pages end the book in a bizarre sort of sequel to THE FIVE DOCTORS and to say that it feels a little abbreviated is to say the cover of MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN is a little bright. The book flies through revelations and plot-twists faster than the news of rec.arts.drwho.moderated going live went through on-line fandom. The main villain of the story goes from being completely in command to being utterly defeated, literally inside a single paragraph (it's right there on page 279, if you don't believe me). It's impossible to take this sort of thing seriously, and I would advise any potential reader to just sit back and enjoy the ride. To look for logic and seriousness in a story where Terrance Dicks is just trying to have a good time is a fruitless task.
It relies a bit too heavily on coincidences for my liking, but overall I still found myself enjoying BLOOD HARVEST. The sequences of the Doctor and Ace running a prohibition-era speakeasy carry the rest of the book. Even during the more boring parts, I didn't find the book to be anything less than adequate. It's got some definite flaws, and while many of them are major, none are fatal. As a fan I enjoyed it, but I have no idea how anything without some serious knowledge of Who history could even understand major portions of it.


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