Taking life easy for a few days, having a nasty cold, I've read a couple of the 50th anniversary editions of Doctor Who novels. The Fourth Doctor story, Festival of Death, was great and I've reviewed that.
This one is the Fifth Doctor story representative for the 50th anniversary celebrations. Fear of the Dark was first published in 2003, and is set after the tv story Arc of Infinity, when Tegan returns to the Tardis after the adventure in Amsterdam with Omega. Tegan, Nyssa and the Doctor are still feeling the loss of Adric, and Nyssa is haunted by nightmares of Traken. When the Tardis is attacked by some kind of psionic force, they land on what turns out to be the moon of Akoshemon, a planet where centuries of fear and horror have haunted the landscape. There the Tardis crew meet up with a team led by Jyl Stoker; but what are they doing there and what does it mean for the Doctor and his companions?
This is a great story; the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are captured perfectly. I love the way the author has captured Tegan's quickfire temper, and there is humour laced among the action and mounting horror of the narrative. Beyond that, the story itself is a clever, multi-layered narrative, which starts off seeming like its going to be quite straightforward but along the way turns into a very complex story with many sidelines. That's a good thing; the characters all get a chance to develop into `real' people, and the mounting tension and horror of the story becomes a real tangible thing. The Doctor's fear of his own vulnerabilities makes the story never seem like a sure-fire neatly tied up opportunity, and there is real tension and concern in the story right to the end. Totally, utterly recommende. This is a great Doctor Who, and a great story.
on 24 April 2015
This starts out ok, if a little more like an episode of classic trek than doctor who. In fact it's a bit like the episode Devil in the Dark, with a monster lurking about in the tunnels etc . The characterisation and dialogue for the doctor is pretty good to start with, and you can picture the fifth doctor. Nyssa has little do for most of the book except be ill or asleep. Tegan is written reasonably well. The other characters are corny. There are some shameless and crude attempts to get us to care about them, such as repeatedly talking about the young daughter of one of them and how she needs her daddy to come home. These characters are too cartoon for us to really give two hoots about them.
When Captain Lawrence arrives in response to a distress call, and has an antagonistic relationship with the female leader of the rogue mining team, I groaned then laughed out loud to read that, you guessed it, they had a romantic past together. I will leave you to take a wild guess as to how their apparent loathing of each other turns out. . . . Suffice to say that this was cheese of the corniest nature.
There is to be fair a good degree of interest story wise for the first half or so of the book. This degenerates rather, into a repeating pattern of the doctor insisting that they go towards the danger and then have to run away. This all feels a bit pointless. The end result is that the doctor feels pretty useless and if anything more likely to get people killed. He is never in control and rarely appears to have much to offer, but instead gets dragged along by the events. It's sort of the antithesis of the tenth doctors almost messiah like powers. I accept that the fifth doctor was much more dithering and unsure, but in this story he starts to feel more of a blundering liability than he should. To be fair this is made at least in part inevitable by him being under the mental influence of the enemy, but that to me renders him pretty un-doctor like for much of the time, which is not really what I want in a doctor who book.
When the remaining humans finally decide to blast off of the surface, they take an absolute age doing so. This being despite the monster that can kill them in a second being hot on their heels! They even allow someone to give a long explanation of their back story and current position, including why they think as they do, when there is no reason why he can't do this after they have safely taken off.
The various futile encounters with the blood sucker and the 'Dark' finally come to a climax during one of the many to'ing and fro'ings into the caves etc . The doctor finally has a brief lucid moment of doctorish behaviour and its all over. So it's not terrible and entertaining in parts, but rather let down by corny additional characters, too much pointless advance and retreat, and a doctor who is not himself.
on 8 January 2004
Fear of the Dark is a Dr. Who novel by Trevor Baxendale. It's his fourth Dr. Who novel, and the first one to involve a different Doctor than the eighth. Baxendale does an excellent job with this one, creating his very own Who horror novel with some chills and a tight cast of characters. It's only marred by an ending that seems to take forever and some wooden characterization.
Baxendale is known for his traditional Who stories, and this one is no different. One can imagine the dank cave sets, perhaps wobbling a little bit as they were wont to do on the television show. It has a limited cast, and even fewer actual speaking parts. The only thing that couldn't be done is some of the special effects, and even those may have been able to be faked. Yes, this is televised Who on a book budget. And you know what? I loved it.
One of the things the television series often had going for it was atmosphere. Fear of the Dark has this in spades. It's spooky and it's (yes, this word will keep coming up again) dark. The dank mood of the caves just wafts off the page, and when one of the characters is completely cut off and alone in the dark (there it is again!), I could feel my own gut clench a little bit. Even when the characters are in bright lights, the book still feels a bit dimmed. Baxendale does a very effective job in conveying this, and the mood is perfect for what Baxendale is trying to show us. It's positively chilling when the Dark is siphoning away any visible light, and we watch as even open flames slowly dim until they are just embers, and then finally even these go out.
Often, when books go for an atmospheric effect, they do so at the expense of the characters. Baxendale is bitten by this bug, unfortunately. Then again, he could be going for the horror movie effect, where the cast is limited and nobody outside the inner circle is given any characterization whatsoever. While this may be true, it doesn't really work in a book. Some of Stoker's men have a few lines, a brief bit of characterization, and then they're gone. Cannon fodder is the term, I believe. It gets worse when the ship arrives and Baxendale adds even more faceless people to go with the two new full characters. In fact, we don't even know what happens to some of the crew, though it's obvious by implication. They just disappear and are never referred to again.
There are a few exceptions to this, though. Stoker is definitely the best of the bunch, alternately suspicious of the Doctor and then relying on him when it's clear he has a better grip of what's going on then she does. We learn a lot about her in the course of events, and I really enjoyed reading about her. Less well-done, though still effectively, are Lawrence, Bunny, and Cadwell. Cadwell has his own agenda but he seems a bit too stereotypical at times. Bunny is given lots of background, but it is sort of stereotypical as well. He has left his family for one final mission with Stoker, and he constantly misses his daughter (though no mention is made of him missing his wife, which is interesting). Lawrence actually is given more then the stereotypical tough-guy captain role, especially his interplay with Stoker.
However, it's the regular characters where Baxendale shines. The Fifth Doctor, so hard to get right in print (especially when compared to Peter Davison's performance of him on the show), is excellent. He's kind and considerate of his friends but just slightly tetchy. He's irritable at times, especially when things are starting to go wrong. Basically, he's so in-character here that it becomes obvious when something is happening to him and he starts doing weird things. With anybody else, the characterization would be so off that we would believe it's just the author messing up. Here, it's obvious what's going on and a little bit scary.
Tegan and Nyssa are excellent as well. Nyssa is innocent yet quietly competent. Tegan is a mouth on legs, but you can tell that she genuinely cares about people, especially her friends. She is willing to die for her friends if need be, and while she does feel fear, she is willing to do what it takes to save them. The novel takes place right after the television episode "Arc of Infinity," where she has met up with the TARDIS crew after being abandoned by them at Heathrow Airport 6 months before. Thus, the book delves deeply into her psyche as she determines what her place is within both the crew itself as well as life in general. She wants to do something with her life, and as scary as traveling with the Doctor can be sometimes, she hasn't felt alive like that since she was stuck back on Earth. She wants to help people, and she will always get the opportunity to do that when the Doctor is around. I loved her character in this book.
I haven't said a lot about the plot of the book, but that's mainly because it is stereotypical of the genre. A small group of people are terrorized by a malevolent force and must defeat it to survive. The ending confrontation drags on a bit too long and I started to get bored, but otherwise the book was one that I couldn't put down. Sure, the plot is a stereotype, but when it's done well, I don't care. This book grabbed me, and while it almost let me go at the end, it was definitely worth the read.
on 15 June 2013
The dark is scary. The end.
That's pretty much the content of this novel, which features the fifth Doctor and his companions Tegan and Nyssa. The companions are recognisably themselves (Tegan particularly), but the Doctor is a fairly blank template. I rarely found this depiction of my favourite iteration of the character to be wholly authentic, although he doesn't do anything wildly aberrant either. For the most part, I simply found him off key. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the plot. A thingy, which is scary, hangs about being scary, and everyone is scared. The problem is that the thingy is only scary by implication. There are some good moments, mostly reminiscent of the movie Event Horizon, but they appear and then vanish again. They fail to build. And the ending itself is anticlimactic in the extreme, and left me wondering what all the fuss was about. This whole story was done with infinitely more flair and texture in the TV adventure The Curse of Fenric, and the hollow core of this book functions best in illustrating how much better that was.