Damaged Goods (New Doctor Who Adventures) Paperback – 24 Oct 1996
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The Doctor fights the scourge of drugs on a council estate in 1980s Britain but there is a far more dang erous adversary that is pervading the scene. It is connected with an obsessive woman, a special child and a desperate ba rgain made one Christmas Eve. '
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Top Customer Reviews
Russell.T.Davies has produced what seemed at first to be a classic 'New Adventure' for Doctor Who. The TARDIS crew arrive on Earth in the late nineteen-eighties and are immediately embroiled in the nefarious world of crack cocaine and gangland terror. Davies initially recreates the superbly sleazy world of night-time homosexual encounters and queer-bashing; illicit drug deals; violent criminals and seedy council estates of Thatcher's Britain; with the spectre of AIDS hanging over the whole lot like some underfed, deadly vulture. The novel is consequently extremely violent in places and as such is a departure from the normal (fairly cosy) world of the Virgin New Adventures.
The real flaw comes halfway through the story when it degenerates into self-referential Doctor Who cliche. Lots of guff about the 'N-Frame', Timelord history and dark secrets, spoil what is mainly a fine foray into the connections between human emotion and otherworldly occurences. Still better than at least half of its predecessors, this appears to have been a slightly missed opportunity.
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I never got around to reading DAMAGED GOODS when it was first published; as with many of the books of this era (through no fault of their own) I found myself simply far too busy to get around to it. I knew of its impressive reputation and was pleased when I eventually secured a copy. So when I finally opened the cover I already knew that this Davies guy would be The Producer, The Writer And Main Pooh-Bah Of Doctor Who. I found myself giving the book more scrutiny than I otherwise would have, simply to see if I could find clues as to what sort of series he will create based on what he had written here.
Upon completion of the book, I realized that this approach is, of course, absolute nonsense. What I didn't get out of the book was that the new series will feature two ex-cops as companions, or will take place in a London housing estate, or will feature big, evil monsters from Gallifrey's past. What I did take away was the book's fabulous attention to detail, Davies' ability to create sympathetic, flawed, interesting characters, and his talent for pulling them all into an engaging plot that gives each person an important part to play.
Doctor Who on television almost always worked when it had interesting and believable characters. Whether the characters were realistic was another matter entirely, and while the concepts sometimes dovetailed, this, I feel, was rare. Sharaz Jek (to pick an example totally at random) is a fascinating creation whose obsessive behavior is believably conveyed. But you couldn't imagine him at the far future's equivalent of a supermarket, because within the actual story of THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI it made more sense to have a collection of archetypes rather than someone you would expect to meet on the street (or in any place outside the confines of the story being told). Davies manages to express both in his only Doctor Who novel (so far), which is a fantastic bonus as far as I'm concerned. His characters are interesting, believable, and also realistic. This formula certainly wouldn't be appropriate (or possible) for every Doctor Who story, but here it works, and thanks to Davies' skills, it works extremely well. DAMAGED GOODS is fantasy grounded in realism, which can't be an easy thing to successfully pull off.
Getting to the book itself, one of the first wishes I have is that hopefully with the new series in production, Davies will find some spare time to write some more novels (or novelisations), because his prose is wonderful. His sense of timing, his ability to effectively pace the story, and his sense of setting the proper atmosphere is superb. A scene with a dead corpse returning to life is exactly the right amount of creepy and sinister. It's nicely evocative of those Hinchcliffe-era horror stories without containing anything that feels like a retread or a copy. Pieces of it reminded me at times of the psychological horror/thrillers that Stephen Gallagher wrote in his post-Doctor Who days.
Although the story is great from cover to cover, I found myself most enjoying the little things that the book did. Little moments of humanity liberally scattered through the sections of pure horror... and, of course, the novel's themes. In DAMAGED GOODS, the dead past never really leaves the living present. Apart from the obvious zombie rising-from-the-dead parallels, there's a depressed middle-aged man who talks to the voice of his dead wife in his head, and secrets from character's pasts that never quite seem to go away. Constant and subtle repetitions of the book's themes go a long ways towards making the book coherent and powerful. The "damaged goods" of the title conveys a theme that is shockingly horrific. The more I thought about the book's content, the more I appreciated it. Revelations towards the end echo subject matter introduced earlier, making me gasp not only at the twist, but also at how deviously it subverted and built upon the seemingly innocuous prior passages.
So, what can we take from DAMAGED GOODS to look towards how the new Doctor Who series will turn out? The subject matter, the number of continuity references, the balance of humor to drama? No. At the moment, we just can't make meaningful predictions without making them so general as to be worthless. The only important thing to take from DAMAGED GOODS is that Russell T Davies is a damn good writer, and if he writes half as well for Doctor Who today as he did eight years ago, then I expect to be very pleased with the results. If you had told me six months ago the new producer for TV Doctor Who was named "Russell", I think I would have been ill. But reading DAMAGED GOODS has given me a lot of hope that Davies is the right Russell for the job.
Bottom line: A dark, gory melodrama on drug use, urban poverty, motherhood, childlessness, and more, this novel isn't tightly written, but it demonstrates style and plot devices that would show up later in Davies' time as showrunner of the Doctor Who relaunch, in his miniseries The Second Coming, and in Torchwood.
Trigger warnings: drug abuse (cocaine), alcoholism, self-harm (cutting), vivid suicidal ideation, classism, racism, forced prostitution (including minors as prostitutes), severe internalized anti-gay sentiments, gaybashing, nonconsensual sex between an adult and a minor, , deaths of children, murder of child, murder of spouse, depiction of mental illness (indefinite type), sale and purchase of children, miscarriage, child abuse (physical but not sexual, by a non-relative), bullying (including assault), gory deaths and extreme violence
How does it treat women/same-sex relationships? Many of this novel's characters are women, and much of the novel is told from their points-of-view, but the treatment of women is strongly ambiguous, with two women driven to violent, desperate acts by the need to mother. The novel could be read as misogynistic or sympathetic to social pressures on women, depending on interpretation. The novel is set in the 1980s, with present-day levels of sexism and anti-gay sentiment; one character, from the future, says that sexual orientation no longer holds any stigma in his time. A minor male character is gay and out; another is gay and closeted to the point of gaybashing, repression, and self-loathing.
Does it have explicit sex scenes?: No. It has one implied m/m sex scene.
Would I read it again? Yes, if only to pick it apart for themes and to think more about its depiction of women.
Would I publish it? Difficult to say. I'm uneasy with the depiction of women, but I would need to read it again to decide. The book generally portrays human beings of all sexes as flawed, both good and bad, and I'm not certain the body count was higher for either sex. Still, the crazed obsessive ice queen and the overprotective haunted mother are both tropes that put me on guard.
If you've watched Doctor Who, this novel isn't the Doctor Who you see on television. This novel is 1980s Doctor Who you might see if the special effects budget and technology were scads above what they were (or even are today) and if all concerns about it being a family show were torn away. It is dark. Massively dark. If you've seen Torchwood: Children of Earth, it's that sort of dark--hopeless families, twisted emotions, and children at the heart of it all. The gore in this novel would take it right up to the top of modern SF or zombie movie bio-horror, if it were realized on the big screen. There are set pieces of bizarre biomechanical slaughter. The body count takes out most of the characters the novel introduces, and there are many characters. Do not go into this one hoping for a happy ending, but if you want over-the-top SF melodrama, go for it. And then tell me what you think about Davies' take on women at the end, because I want to know. It simultaneously seemed nuanced (motherhood not as something cult-of-domesticity divine, but as something that can haunt people and ruin people and drive them to the edge), and harsh harsh harsh, the women-as-mad, women-as-self-destructive climax and death toll of misogyny. It's sympathy ending in destruction. (If you've seen Davies' Doctor Who episode "The Next Doctor," the climax of this novel seems very much of a piece with that episode's, as does the development of a main character.)
If you're a Davies-watcher, like I am, you can see pieces in this story that Davies pulled on in his later work, including a scene adapted for "The Second Coming," the aforementioned climax a la "The Next Doctor," possible forerunners of the Toclafane, and a worldwide threat that has some similarities to the poof-sudden-Masters-all-over in "The End of Time." Also maybe a little of "Dalek," with devices trying to fight a dead war. And of course Davies using lower-class characters and settings for the hearts of his stories. He writes a good Seven, haunted and dark and knowing too much about how the universe works. I can easily see this Seven moving forward into the Time War timeline that Davies' relaunch established.
The thing that struck me most while reading this is the same thing that struck me while watching the Davies era of New Who: The man can write great characters. There simply isn't a single badly written character in the whole book and Davies proves his ability to get a character across so simply and effectively on TV is there on the printed page as well. There's Rita, the cocaine addicted waitress we meet in chapter two for example, who appears for that single chapter but is so well defined that you almost feel like you know her by the time it's over. With his ability to do that, Davies really fleshes out the full supporting cast once the story shifts to its main setting as we're introduced to the troubled Tyler family, the ruthless and resurrected drug dealer the Capper, the old woman Mrs. Hearn who holds many secrets and the upper-class Eve Jericho who are just some of the characters we meet in the space of 263 pages. Each and every one of them is fleshed out, explored and delved into as we discover just who they are and the role they have to play in the events unfolding. The results are at times remarkable with the cliche of “characters that leap off the page” being more than applicable under the circumstances.
Then there's the setting: the Quadrant housing estate in London, 1987. It's hard not to think of it as a predecessor of sorts to the Powell Estate but it's far more than that. The Quadrant is almost a character in its own right: the seemingly ordinary hiding something extraordinary underneath. It's a place full of secrets with people almost hidden away, tension hanging in the air almost continuously. The Doctor at one point sums up each of the flats found in the Quadrant as being like a fortress, an apt description of perhaps the most down to earth setting you'll ever encounter in a Doctor Who book. Yet, like he would do nearly a decade later, Davies proves that the extraordinary often lies just beneath the surface if we're willing to look for it.
What really separates Damaged Goods from the rest of Davies' Who writing (and why he stopped it being reprinted ahead of the show's return in 2005) is just how adult and dark it is. While the council estate setting and character situations are definitely familiar to those of us who came to know Rose Tyler and the Powell Estate, Davies handling of those familiar elements is anything but. The story revolves around drugs, something that would be a major taboo even now for the New Series, with emphasis placed on the less than sunny lives and times of those in the Quadrant with sex, expletives and violence all being front and center. While t he social issues being explored here are familiar Davies territory, the tone of the novel isn't so much Doctor Who but that of Torchwood (especially the bleak but brilliant Children Of Earth). This is Davies doing what he never did on TV and what some are still crying out for even now: a non-family friendly Doctor Who.
Yet while Davies is famous for his characters and characterizations and he creates a good sense of atmosphere, there is one fault of his that is here. The man is infamous for his plots, lack thereof and infuriating endings. The plot is an ultra-slow burner even at 263 pages with it being at times almost more of a portrait of life on a housing estate than a science fiction novel. Then suddenly, with fifty or so pages left, the plot explodes and begins to rush by at an incredible pace and with elements that firmly remind us that this is in fact a Doctor Who story. Yet by then it's almost too late to salvage the plot as the finale turns into something of an precursor to that of The Next Doctor thirteen years later. If you're looking for Davies to do a good plot to go with his characters, this isn't the place to go at all.
There's another side-effect of that focus as well. The three “main” characters of the book (the seventh Doctor, Chris and Roz) seem like supporting characters at times as the book seems to focus more on Davies' own creations. It's almost like reading a Doctor-lite story at times as, until those last fifty pages or so, the Doctor and companions seem to wander about almost aimlessly inside the novel. Yet once again Davies proves his ability to right strong characters, especially in his capturing of the seventh Doctor who comes across incredibly well when he does appear. Indeed, reading Damaged Goods felt less at times like reading a Doctor Who novel then reading that very thing Davies is often accused of turning the New Series into: a soap opera with Davies often seems swept up in his characters and their back stories at expense of anything else.
At the end of the day, Damaged Goods features all the hallmarks of Davies later writing for when the show came back both for the good and bad. Good in the form of characterizations but bad in that the plot is slow to unfold and then is over with in a flash. Yet it's also far darker than virtually anything Davies gave his in his nearly five years as show runner on the New Series. While I can't quite sing its praises as others have done both here and elsewhere, I can recommend it at the very least as a curiosity and at best as Davies only novel.