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Miles better : the finest Eighth Doctor Adventure
on 8 February 2002
In the world of Doctor Who novels a new work by Lawrence Miles is an event. His previous works, Alien Bodies and Interference, and his New Adventure Dead Romance, have a scale and a depth that is lacking from most of the long running series predecessors. Miles has ambition for the series, and sadly, many traditional Doctor Who fans, do not realise that it is on the printed page that the future of the series now lies - and it is through playing with form and style that Doctor Who will continue to justify its existence.
With Lawrence Miles new novel, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, Doctor Who fiction has been delivered the Miles book long promised through the midwife of series editor, Justin Richards. This is a new start for the series, and coming after an impressive series of novels including Loyd Rose's City of the Dead, Kate Orman's The Year of Intelligent Tigers, and Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale's Grimm Reality, suggests a bright future for the series.
It is difficult to write too much about this novel without giving away key plot elements. However, to attempt. The Doctor is sick, stranded in eighteenth century London in a brothel run by Scarlette, the eponymous heroine. Without his TARDIS, and initially without his companions, the Doctor is sick. Strange demon apes (babewyns) roam London's streets. They kill and devour those in their way. And a bulky character, Sabbath, appears in a metal ship crewed by trained babewyns, pledged to defend time. This novel deals with the loose ends left hanging by the big bang from The Ancestor Cell, and throws up enough plot strands to suggest a bright future for the series.
The novel reintroduces an old friend (although they are never named), and features two controversial elements that will keep the Doctor Who fanbase arguing for years to come.
Aside from the controversy, though, the novel merits the description in the title - the finest Eighth Doctor adventure. Appreciating that Doctor Who lies on the page, Miles (along with Paul Magrs one of the more sophisticated writers of the series), turns in a stylistic tour de force. Reminding this reader of William Boyd's fake biography Nat Tate, Miles writes a history. Freed from the obligation on an author to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, Miles writes a history based on testimonies. Whether or not events occurred are couched with doubts and questions. Referring to many sources - from Scarlette, Sabbath, the Doctor, masonic records, secret service records, and the tesimonies of various prostitutes - strands are pulled together. The plot is never overwhelmed by style. But the halting nature of the historical narrative leaves loose ends, uncertainties. This is what the series needed. This is a novel that bears rereading, but also suggests a new way forward. The Doctor, in assuming the mantle of Earth's champion, and Sabbath, there to protect time, sets fair for a new conflict in the series.
This was a most enjoyable read. And as well as the big picture Miles puts in some jokes (I enjoyed the conflict between the prostitutes in Manchester, where the southerners wear red and black, the locals, blue and white rosettes.) One hopes that Miles returns to the series again very soon; and, also, that his ambition extends beyond Who. Here is a novelist that - in fantasy or science fiction - could play with ideas, and write big important novels.
If you enjoyed this read Alien Bodies or Interference, Miles' last two series defining volumes.