on 9 November 2007
Just finished reading 'The Taking of Planet 5', and what a smile it put on my face! To be fair, I just ripped through 'Kursaal' in a day, which made me want to disembowel myself with a garden claw, but still.
I first read 'Planet 5' when it came out, and was, I think, completely baffled. I thought I'd give it another, much belated, go though - not having anything to lose - but then probably stick it on eBay... So, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying it! I'm a massive fan of Bucher-Jones' previous NA 'The Death of Art' - it's such a wonderfully macabre, atmospheric read, jam-packed (that's right... I said `jam-packed') with the kind of fascinating ideas that Lawrence Miles does so well. Okay, that was a bit gushy.
Speaking of Mad Larry, I think these authors' appropriation of Miles' 'Alien Bodies' toybox was a main reason for my 13-year-old self to be formerly so dismissive of this novel. Now though I find it quite refreshing to see someone else having a stab at these concepts. To be fair, the idea of the War-in-Heaven Time Lords etc doesn't have the advantage of being as shockingly unprecedented and shock-horror original as they somehow still do even when rereading 'Alien Bodies' today - but hey, this still-unfamiliar take on the overused, bloodless 'Five Doctors'-style Gallifrey, is something of a treat...
Not that I'm saying the book's stunningly brilliant (although, few things are). But - it's enjoyably written (I find the "dense prose" infinitely preferable to the generally anaemic `style' of, seemingly, the majority of Doctor Who authors), and surprisingly funny to boot (although, thinking about it, 'The Death of Art' has its moments too. Yeah, still plugging it...). I've never quite warmed to Fitz, or, in fact, had anything beyond the most basic conception of what he's actually like. But, here - I wouldn't say he's actually a character per se, but he's certainly likeable and engaging; it's actually nice to have an unwilling companion (not another over-eager Jo Grant or even Sam Jones - may her shell be blighted!! - `bipedal sheep'). Compassion - yeah, same problem really, but here you feel like the authors actually got a handle on her basically antisocial tendencies, without making her into a totally unlikeable cow.
The Doctor, I guess, is slightly... generic. But, again - likeably so; he's energetic and engaging, and thank God. I know it comes later in the run (damn and blast, etc), but I reread 'The Shadows of Avalon' t'other week - same story as this really; didn't get into it back then, and now - well... Let's just say, didn't feel so charitable there; it's probably coming up on eBay any day now, kids. I'm sorry, but Cornell is so hopelessly overrated (the filmed 'Human Nature' was a huge improvement) - but, I'm sorry, his prose is so... superficial. I never get any sense of, I suppose, immersion! It's like - compare to Cartmel's NA 'War' trilogy (sorry: "blistering 'War' trilogy," which seems to be the official description) - I felt like I was there in every scene... Anyway - I digress. What was I saying? Oh yes - 'Shadows of Avalon' has a, to me, inexplicably good reputation; all of the regulars there were absolute puppets! It's like he gave up on creating any chance of involvement with the TARDIS crew so as to focus on the Brigadier.
...But I'm still digressing.
As for 'Planet 5''s apparently mind-shredding plot, well, personally, I'd much rather a surplus than a deficit; I enjoy that kind of bombardment of ideas and events... This time round (and, to be fair, I'm not 13 any more - thankfully), this fell into place rather nicely I felt. The girl disgorged by the `creature' in the 1999 base being Compassion was kind of obvious, but by no means less effective for that...
In conclusion then, lords and ladies... well, I'm currently rereading all the Doctor Who books I have which I can't remember a thing about - not for me the dizzy heights of Cartmel or Aaronovitch or Orman at the moment, then! - and as such, I've had to face such blistering mediocrities that discovering this book to be, a), not only overlooked back in 1999, but, b), something of a minor gem, was a breath - nay, a gale! - of relief. It's complex, it's funny, it rolls along. The regulars are likeable. The concepts are interesting. Obviously, it's not to everyone's taste, but I'm glad to know that 'The Death of Art' (of which that statement is equally true) wasn't the one-off I've had it in mind for years to be.
So, yeah. It's good, I like it. (But then, I thought 'The Shadows of Avalon' was smug dross, so what do I know?)