on 2 December 2003
Dying in the Sun seems to be an examination of Hollywood and how the American public sees celebrities. Much is made of the star quality of a few of the characters, though in this book, a large part of that is artificial. Then again, that's probably the point: that the star quality that we see in our movie stars is artificial, manufactured by Hollywood producers and the pop culture mentality that makes some of us follow these people's lives religiously. It's an interesting idea, though it's been done many times so it's not a new one. I think it's a very nice touch that this is done in 1947, which is during the movie studio era. I think it would have been too easy to make it a modern-day story.
However, Miller doesn't imbue the story with a lot of energy. The book is a fairly easy read, so it moves fairly quickly in that manner. However, it doesn't draw you in, grabbing you and making you read it until the end. It's a very straightforward story, almost a run-around. The Doctor bounces from location to location, trying to figure things out, making a deduction or two, and then goes on to the next situation. Surprisingly, even though the Doctor does a lot of running around and nosing into things, ultimately he doesn't have a lot to do with the resolution. He has a hand in the final fate of the villain, but the situation starts to fall apart through the actions of another character. It's yet another example of the ineffectual Doctor that permeates the Past Doctor series of books. I found this rather disappointing.
The characterization is pretty solid, though nothing outstanding. The Second Doctor is one of the hardest Doctors to get right on the printed page, as so much of what we like about him is provided by the performance on television of Patrick Troughton. In book form, many authors try to capture Troughton mannerisms without catching the charm that Troughton brought to the character. In this case, Miller does a decent job of getting it right. It's not completely recognizable as the Second Doctor, but he does make him distinct enough to be satisfying. And he avoids using some Troughton cliches, such as "Oh my giddy aunt!" I was very glad to see that. In Dying in the Sun, the second Doctor is inquisitive, intelligent, not willing to be bullied by authority but not contemptuous of it. He is an interesting character to read about, and I did enjoy seeing what he would do.
The other characters are pretty good too, though nothing special. Ben and Polly are pretty close to their televised counterparts, but they're not fleshed out to any real degree. Polly is very easily seduced into the star culture of Hollywood and is a typical late 1960's party girl. Ben is protective of her, a sailor who's tough as nails when he needs to be but doesn't always understand what's going on. Polly's side of the story is kind of interesting, as she gives a personal touch to the story's examination of Hollywood when she starts feeling like she is a star. She embodies the arrogance and selfishness that pervades this sort of culture. The rest of the story is about that too, but her story gives us an inside look at it, and I thought it was pretty effective.
The new characters are pretty basic, though not badly done. De Sande is a very credible bad guy. The reader is never sure how much of what he's doing is because he's a villain and how much is from some other source. The two other characters who get most of the screentime are Robert Chate and Detective William Fletcher. Chate is a very good ambiguous character. He's a drug dealer, but he starts out the novel wanting to get out of the business. He's always been in love with a former screen star, and when he finally meets her as he's on the run, things don't go quite as expected. He gives us the outsider's view of Hollywood and demonstrates the possible result of our fascination with these stars. Polly gets into trouble because she wants to *be* a star, but Robert has problems because he's in love with one.
Fletcher is the typical irascible detective who will do anything to find the truth of what happened. As is typical in Doctor Who stories, the Doctor sidesteps the suspicion that is placed on him and becomes an integral part of the investigation. Fletcher is sort of stereotypical in how he reacts to this, and he ends up becoming part of the run-around. However, his character has a really interesting twist that I won't give away, which redeems him in my eyes. Don't worry that he's sounds typical. Following his story will pay off at the end.
This review sounds very ambivalent, and that pretty much sums up my reaction to this book. It takes a great idea, does a few good things with it, but makes it's not interesting enough to really hold the reader's attention. The climax of the story breaks down into an action piece that doesn't really fit well with the rest of the novel, and is almost anti-climactic in that sense. It only adds to the interest level if you need a little action to wake you up. It's a very traditional Doctor Who story, and fans who like that sort of thing may find this book very good. However, it's not a very good introduction to the book series, as I'm afraid anybody who doesn't already like the series would probably be turned off by it.
Consider this a very qualified recommendation.