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Doctor Who: Bullet Time Paperback – 1 Aug 2001
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Certainly the way the book was structured reminded me very much of Andrew Cartmel's 'Cat's Cradle: Warhead' as the Doctor here hardly features in the first two thirds of the novel, but although his appearances are kept to the minimum they have great impact on the story. This is the Seventh Doctor of the New Adventures here (even down to the cream suit.) Dark, manipulative and someone whom Sarah has a hard time believing is the same person who was once her friend McIntee characterises the Doctor well despite the infrequency of his appearances. I've criticised the previous PDA 'Rags' for it's lack of involvement of the Doctor, but the same accusations shouldn't be made against 'Bullet Time' as it feels right to have this Doctor working in the background and out of sight to his own motivations and reasons.
Sarah Jane Smith was one of the best companions throughout the television series, and therefore it's surprising that since the BBC began publishing Doctor Who books that she hasn't featured at all apart from a cameo appearance in 'Millennium Shock' and her role in 'Interference.' McIntee gets her character right and shows her doubts about this version of the Doctor well so they come across as very believable.
A lot seemed to happen in this novel and although this was adequately explained throughout, it did give the book a very cluttered feel. Perhaps if it had been a little longer then this could have been avoided. There are some interesting characters throughout the book and it's good to see a different branch of UNIT to the regular British version with the appearance of UNIT-SEA. It was a shame that some poor editing marred the book slightly (witness the Lieutenant who becomes a Captain a few pages later with no explanation for the promotion) but aside from these minor complaints, there wasn't much wrong with this book.
'Bullet Time' is an worthy novel which is certainly McIntee's best BBC book since 'The Face Of The Enemy.' The Seventh Doctor PDA books have frequently been disappointing, but this one doesn't disappoint. With an intriguing plot and some good characterisation, David A. McIntee has produced a very readable book which I enjoyed.
Often in Doctor-light stories it is the job of other characters or a companion to engage more with the reader/viewer. This novel lacks any characters written well enough to fulfil this role. Most of the characters are quite bland, two dimensional and often a little too similar to each other to stand out. The early stages of the book give the impression that Yi Chung could be the focus of the narrative. Despite having plenty of potential his character and its various sub-plots are soon dropped.
Sarah Jane Smith who, I suppose, fills the companion role (the Doctor has no actual companion in this novel it seems) is a pale shadow of her on screen persona and it is often hard to associate the version in this book with the onscreen version either in Doctor Who or The Sarah Jane Adventures. To be fair though, I may be a little put off by her `romantic' behaviour in this story. After watching the character in the seventies as a child it feels a little wrong. Her relationship with the Doctor also feels completely wrong when the two of them eventually interact. She seems to get along perfectly with Doctors Three, Four, Ten and Eleven but not at all with the Seventh.
The whole plot of the story is fairly mediocre and the narrative doesn't really inspire the reader to keep reading. The aliens are very poor and of absolutely no interest. There is very little to say about them. At best this is a bog-standard gangster/triad/police thriller which happens to have the Doctor, Sarah Jane, UNIT and some aliens thrown into it. It gives the impression that it started out life as a somewhat different story that was subsequently converted into a Doctor Who novel.
David Mcintee has produced much better Doctor Who novels than this. His novel `The Shadows of Weng Chiang' deals with similar settings and themes but is far better structured and atmospheric. Try that instead.
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I actually didn't mind this one but it's getting points docked for not living up to its potential. As much as I hate strip mining the past merely to hit nostalgia buttons, there's something to be said for the Past Doctor line's ability to give us unorthodox pairings of Doctors and friends in order to illustrate the changing attitudes and themes of the show's different eras over the years. Ian and Barbara would probably be mystified at the Tenth Doctor's constant sadness/manicness when there's a need to, you know, get things done, while Rose and the Third Doctor would be such a study in contrasts that it makes one even more distraught that Jon Pertwee is no longer with us. It reminds us that the show is about constant change and that change can be just as disconcerting for the people left behind as it is for us at times.
This one gives us Your Fan Favorite and Mine, Sarah Jane Smith, investigating incidents in then contemporary Hong Kong, running into Sylvester McCoy's Doctor, who is in full on "let's manipulate everyone in sight" mode and trying to figure out why he seems to be running a drug ring. This, needless to say, is a bit out of character from the Doctors she used to know. There's some allowance for being eccentric, but all out criminal activity seems to be a bit over the line. Meanwhile the Asian branch of UNIT appears to be involved, along with some other military type folks and, of course, roving drug gangs. It's a big recipe for a lot of confusion, which is apparently exactly what we get. But not the same kind of confusion the author probably planned.
There are several good arguments that can be made for the "What the heck?" scenario, where Sarah runs into the Doctor doing something that we and her know that he can't be possibly doing, then coming to the "maybe?" conclusion as she pieces together the evidence left in his wake before it's all revealed to be "just kidding!" We get a variation on that here, as Sarah faces mounting evidence that the Doctor is involved in something less than savory, which should lead us to question this motivations and aims, much like she is. The book feels it can sustain this theme because the Seventh Doctor is kind of a special case. More than any of the other Doctors, McCoy's was known for treating people like chess pieces and hurling them into battle without their actual consent to help achieve his goals, which often went a bit beyond what the other incarnations would attempt. Hints of this were shown on the TV series but the Virgin New Adventures went even further, casting the Seventh Doctor as a true alien presence at times, unpredictable and not so much one step ahead but one step to the side and even above in how he would outthink opponents and often willing to sacrifice pawns to get the job done, although he'd feel bad about it later. Not so much the end justifies the means as the means justifies the means.
Which means that Sarah could be running into a scenario where she's literally playing with fire, assuming that this Doctor is cute and cuddly like the others when he's really out for blood. Unfortunately the book tries to have it both ways, giving us the scenario of running the Triad while at the same time not putting any real doubts in our head that he's actually on the up and up and it's a complicated feint. The trick with the Seventh Doctor is that you could see him running the Triad, it's just that he would manipulate all the bad people into self-destructing at the end of it. Having Sarah never doubt him even before she meets him never lets us question the situation. For this to work, we have to doubt because we've seen this Doctor go to such lengths so we can't guarantee that anyone is safe from him.
It doesn't help that this Doctor is kept at arm's length for most of the story. At first I thought this was a good idea, and it is early. For this most secretive of Doctors, having him running the show while being unseen except through brief and unrevealing glimpses, forcing us to question what kind of game he's playing can give the book an eerie, off-kilter feel, where it might spin into another direction at any second. Highlight his alienness and all that. Except after a while it starts to feel like something of a crutch, especially when over a hundred pages have gone by and we haven't gotten a really good scene with the Doctor (and barely any with Sarah, but I'll get to that), a way for the author to have the Doctor do all kinds of mystifying things without having to explain any of them. Like magic. Except as the readers we have to see something explained other than waving one's metaphorical hands and saying "The Doctor makes illogical things happen because he's the Doctor and he's one step ahead." We're skeptics, we need to see the process. I have no problem with the Doctor being a puppet-master but I do need to see the strings.
So what is the book filled up with then? People. Lots and lots of people. Besides UNIT and the US government agents, it seems like half the population of Hong Kong features in the book. Besides getting a lot more about their love lives than I really cared to learn, we get these people who are all basically marked with the "I'm not going to make it out of this book alive" stamp spending pages chatting to each other about a plot to which they're as opaque as we are about. A lot of them seem interchangable as well, but I'll chalk some of that up to me being slightly Anglo-centric, where all the names blurred together (but then, it's not like there's a lot of natives of Hong Kong running around named "Carl"). The problem is that all the minutiae about their lives get in the way of the plot. Unfortunately if we get too much of the plot it ruins the effect the author is shooting for, where everyone is kept in the dark.
In the end, despite all the worries about this Doctor really playing with fire, his motivations and actions are along the lines of your typical Doctor, with none of the envelope pushing that the New Adventures often featured. While this Doctor snarls, he never really feels dangerous and so Sarah is quickly with an old friend. The hand of his manipulations is always evident and the off-key scenario we were once promised just turns into another situation with aliens. It's a lot of moving around for very little purpose in the end, all sound and fury, as the Bard says. It also doesn't help that the finale sports some severe lapses in logic (what the heck happens to Sarah? and at least one character appears to be doing two different things at the same time) and another "I've gone crazy extreme!" fakeout.
Not quite a team-up but nor is it a grand clashing of opposing viewpoints either, it hopes to be a lot edgier than it really is, but at the end there appears to be blood on no one's hands. It would be nice if a writer could bring back the spirit of those Seventh Doctor New Adventures in a Past Doctor tale (the closest we ever got was Virgin's "Cold Fusion" by Lance Parkin) but if anything this demonstrates the difference between forging ahead and looking back can mean, even when you're using the same basic set of ingredients.
Sarah Jane Smith, a companion of the Third and Fourth Doctor, is enlisted unwittingly by the Seventh Doctor in a secret plan that I won't reveal. Suffice it to say that, as always in a McIntee novel, things aren't necessarily what they seem to be at the outset. The Doctor seems to Sarah to be acting severely out of character, and she wants to get to the bottom of why. She finds out, though, that sometimes you don't really want to know the answer to your questions. Throw in some Hong Kong triads, secret government agencies (lots of them!), and stir, and you get a pot-boiling action flick masquerading as a book.
The prose is very workmanlike, with many descriptions given in pop culture references. Luckily, if you're interested at all in Doctor Who (and thus, reading this book), you won't have any trouble understanding them. It still would be nice to have these lessened a bit, though. The rest of the story is told in rapid succession, with rapid scene changes that make it seem even more like a movie. There is rarely a 2-page spread that doesn't have at least one scene change. This makes for quick reading, and also makes the book ideal for reading in small chunks if all you have is a couple of minutes at a time. While the prose is simple, it fits the style of the book, which is a plus.
The characters are rather two-dimensional, but that's not the point in this book, so that's not as much of a problem as it would be otherwise. If you want wonderful characterization, deep thoughts and discussions, or things like that, then you'll have to look elsewhere. The characters service the plot, rarely breaking out of their strait-jackets, but doing their job as well as they're able to.
For fans of the Virgin New Adventures, there are some things thrown in there for you. The book is actually a sequel to one of McIntee's earlier books, but only subtly. There's no need to have read it in order to read this one. Instead, what this does is make a reader of the previous book say "oh cool!" and move on. People who have read the previous one will know exactly what I'm talking about.
This book is fun. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not literature, it's not trying to be. It does its job, and it does it well. If you like an adventure yarn, you'll probably like this one. Go ahead and pick it up.
This novel is more a story of investigative journalist and former travelling companion Sarah than it is of the Doctor. Indeed, the Doctor's role is far more reminiscent of that he played when Who novels were produced by Virgin: a shadow figure, inclined to manipulate events from the background.
But the book doesn't suffer for that. Sarah is a strong character, well able to carry a large portion of the story, and we, as readers, get to see the Doctor's actions as most in the real world would - like observing a great storm from a distance, seemingly calm at first until it breaks with great force on the landscape.
Given the relative failure of teaming up a companion with a different Doctor seen in 'Asylum', it was good to see David McIntee carry this off successfully. I have no inherent problem with old companions being reused, but unless it adds substantially to both the returning character and the story, there isn't much point. In this case, Sarah's livelihood as a journalist is an important element in the Doctor's plan and is also the reason for her involvement, making the pairing seem quite reasonable.
With more than a nod to the oeuvre of James Bond, this book stands out stylistically from many recent books in the series, and again demonstrates the flexibility of the series' format.