- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: BBC Books (6 Oct. 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0563486082
- ISBN-13: 978-0563486084
- Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 1.9 x 17.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,200,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Doctor Who: Emotional Chemistry Paperback – 6 Oct 2003
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Doctor Who is a renegade Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. The Time Lords are an immensely powerful race, so named because they were the first to discover how to travel freely through time and space. Bored with his life on Gallifrey, the Doctor steals his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) and sets off to explore the universe. He believes passionately in truth and justice, and finds himself getting involved wherever he finds evil and malevolence - which is everywhere! Its 1812: The Vishenkov household, along with the rest of Moscow, faces the advance of Napoleon Bonaparte. At their heart is the radiant Dusha, a source of inspiration - and more besides - for them all. But family friend, Captain Padorin, is acting like a man possessed - by the Devil!Its 2024: Fitz is under interrogation regarding a burglary and fire at the Kremlin. The Doctor has disappeared in the flames. Colonel Bugayev is investigating a spate of antique thefts on top of which he now has a time-travel mystery to unravel. Its 5000: Lord General Razum Kinzhal is ready to set in motion the final stages of a world war.More than the enemy, his fellow generals of the Icelandic Alliance fear what such a man might do in peacetime. What can bridge these disparate events in time? Love will find a way. But the Doctor must find a better alternative. Before love sets the world on fire.
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First of all, EMOTIONAL CHEMISTRY is a treat to read. It comes across as a novel that was crafted with care and attention to detail. Its prose has obviously been labored upon and gives it a strong, powerful voice. And this is true for the book as a whole. It's engaging, and fascinating. Its characters come alive and there's an epic feel to the story which is effectively done considering how simple the heart of the story is.
Enough with the clichéd praise phrases. How did I like the book? Well, as far as readability goes, I simply hated putting it down. I, unfortunately, haven't had much time for reading lately, so I was forced to partake in small chunks at a time. Although I loathed having to set the book aside, I think this was a good thing in the long-term. This is a novel to be savored, not devoured, regardless of how readable it is.
Forward's prose is certainly impressive. There are neat observations, clever turns of phrase and amusing jokes all contained within superbly written sentences. This is not hastily written hackwork, or even quickly flowing, enjoyable narration; this is prose that begs appreciation in its own right. This is good writing.
And what is equally impressive is that it works on the macro as well as the micro level. Stand back from the phrases and sentences, and you'll see a complicated but logical story unfolding. A lot of what the author is doing is quite clever. Splitting the action between three time periods (past, near-present, and far future) allows him many fun comparisons. Effectively handled are the different ways in which love and war are portrayed. The relationships that crop up throughout the story make for an effective lead-in to the main "romance".
Given that there are three main time zones and that each setting has its own cast of characters, it would be very easy for the author to mush things together creating bland, one-dimensional characters. But he fails to fall into that trap. Even the bit players are given life and credibility. I'm also impressed by his depiction of Trix who, after an extremely shaky start, looks to become an extremely interesting companion (as an aside, I've begun visualizing her as blogger Wonkette).
Is there anything really to criticize here? Well, it's nitpicking to be sure, but I didn't care for the quick cutting between scenes. I realize it's a common feature of TV tie-in books; that doesn't mean I have to like it. Come on! I have an attention span! I can follow a scene for more than a page without getting bored! Forward is clearly better than others at this form of pacing, but it's still not something I enjoy.
Also, the sections taking place in the future seemed a bit vague to me. I suppose all the reader needed to know is that there was a war taking place, but I never really got a handle on who was fighting and why. I realize that this story takes its cue from the throwaway hints in TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG, yet that didn't really seem helpful as far as filling in the how's and why's. Perhaps the mere existence of the future war was enough to drive the plot, but I couldn't help but feel that it paled in comparison to the scene setting that took place in the other two sections.
Minor flaws aside, there is really much to enjoy here. And I'm at the point where I'm going to stop myself from simply listing out plot-points that I liked. EMOTIONAL CHEMISTRY contains a combination that has been lacking in the BBC novels of late -- both style and substance. It's a grand tale told over multiple time zones, and different levels of reality, yet ultimately concerning one simple romance. It's the sort of thing that one would think Doctor Who could do well, but very often doesn't. I am very impressed with Simon A. Forward's talents as demonstrated in this novel. His other two books have suddenly made great gains on my To-Read list.
Some characters are introduced who know the Doctor from another time, which confuses the Doctor about as much as it confuses the readers, but in a good way--it hints at a either a future unlived, or a story untold; either way it's a nice air of mystery. If there's one problem with this story it's that there's no real antagonist--there are some bad guys, but they end up being bit players for the most part, background for the love story that ends up taking center stage. Still, it ends up being an enjoyable, if complex, ride to take, though if you're looking for advancement of the metaplot, you'll be disappointed--it's barely present as a bookend at both ends of the novel. However, the next novel (Sometimes Never) gives you all the metaplot you could handle, so that's all right then.
In the course of an investigation, the Doctor, Trix and Fitz wind up separated in an explosion and find themselves in different time zones. The Doctor winds up in the year 5000 and change with a soldier turned art thief, Fitz stays put and gets interrogated by an increasingly exasperated Russian general, while Trix gets to cause chaos pretty much wherever she goes, one of those places being 19th century Russian right before Napoleon marches into town, where a beautiful Russian can kiss everyone back to health. If you don't think this all connects at some point, you must be new to "Doctor Who".
I remember Forward's first novel "Drift" as one that showed promise but probably needed to wait for his ambition to catch up with his talent. Even so, his talent was evident then and it appears that all he needed was a bit more seasoning. While this one isn't one of the game-changing masterpieces, it is one of those fine second-tier books that should be what makes up the bulk of the line.
Often it's not one thing that makes these books go well but a bunch of little things done right that all add up. Here, Forward takes a few storytelling risks that pay off, one of which is separating the main cast for the bulk of the novel and by separating, both in the physical and temporal senses. To make this work and give the impression that it's all happening simultaneously, he flips back and forth from plot to plot like a sugar addicted toddler, managing to keep the plots constantly moving without giving us whiplash. The sections are short and there are times when you wish he'd spend a little more time before racing off to the next occurrence but the end result is not only making the book a page turner but also making it reward close reading. Most of the lesser "Who" novels I can take knock off in a couple of hours, while this one required a bit more intense study to make sure I had everything straight. And yet, it wasn't a chore.
Part of this is helped by giving us interesting supporting characters. Most of the TV episodes that don't have world shattering premises live or die based on the people who aren't the Doctor and company. A good writer makes them come to life and thus brings the world to life, a feat that isn't necessarily easy to do. They exist as partners in the plot, capable of carrying scenes by themselves, whether it's Colonel Bugayev trying to piece together what the heck just happened or Razum Kinzhal outthinking everyone in the 51st century scenes, you get the sense of a whole series of moving parts that keep moving even when the focus isn't on them and the Doctor isn't in the room. It amplifies the effect of the Doctor, showing how he can push a balanced system out of whack, whether he intends to or not.
What gets me is how sly the plot is. There's a villain but he's more a means to an end and not the real threat, dangerous as he is. He's another link in the complexity, more catalyst than climax. The world is threatened but for once not from crazy generals or world-conquering aliens but by a mystery with an aura of strangeness to it, the components of the solution but only brought together by the Doctor and a little bit of luck, which is how it should be. For the first time in a while aliens are treated as great unknowns and not murdering psychopaths or warmongering fools, bringing back that sense of fairy tale myth that works best in the Eighth Doctor adventures (and really nowhere else). The Doctor doesn't have to fight anyone as much as stop something from happening, giving him a chance to puzzle out and solve, and that sleight of hand isn't what we commonly see in the "Who" books, but it's certainly welcome.
This is also our first real run of the new TARDIS crew, and while I'm pretty sure I won't like them as much as the Doctor/Fitz/Anji combo, it does have its moments. Fitz remains the unsung hero in the "Who" canon, the cowardly hero, the Jamie to this Doctor, and seeing him alone reminds us of what he's brought to the range and how different it would have all been without him. Trix I'm not as sold on yet, she's given more chance to act and make an impression here but it's hard to see what she's doing with these people. She's not altruistic (but the Doctor seems bent on teaching her how to be) and while the dilemmas in this novel appeal more to her special skillset as opposed to Anji's, beyond saving her own skin and continued survival. she's not making much of a case (although there's a hint that she's trying to prove to the Doctor she's not all shallow). But she likes the edge that Compassion brought with her, the balance of someone who isn't quite in tune with the Doctor but willing to go along anyway.
Still, Forward gets so much right here that even the lapses are forgivable. And the novel isn't perfect. For one, the resolution lacks any kind of impact at all and some of the "rules" seems easily broken (Aphrodite claims she can't go to the times of her parents, but, um, isn't one of those 19th century Russia?). The novel is a twisty, entertaining affair but lacks the emotional gut punch a scenario like this requires to be truly great, a heartstopping sacrifice or insight. We're brought to the lip of it, as several people claim to know the Doctor from old, adding a nice tension to the plot and reminding us of his memory loss. But little is done with it except add some local color (the 51th century scenes do tie in to "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", which is a nice subtle touch), where using that as a springboard to delve into the mystery of the Doctor and give us some revelations into how he works could have taken the book to another level. As it is, the Doctor remains distant as always, the hero we all know and yet someone we're not quite sure we know.
But all the hints that bleed off the page, the little touches and attentions to detail, it shows the work of someone who is capable of conceiving something that isn't standard, of writing odd structures without getting caught up in their own cleverness, of being able to use the background of "Who" without becoming enslaved to the continuity of it, finding new wrinkles to keep it interesting. A good rule of thumb with these is to see which ones work as "Who" novels and which ones work as pure novels. This one is more the latter than the former. Congratulations, you've made your name worth paying attention to.