on 26 April 2004
I love cannibals. When the Robinsons invite us over for dinner, we never know whether it's to have dinner or for dinner. So far, it hasn't been an issue, thankfully. But you never know with that zany family!
I'm not sure I want to read about them, however. Combat Rock, by Mick Lewis, is full of them. Not just full of them, but full of graphic descriptions of them. There is so much blood and gore (and not just from cannibals) in this book that I was faintly sickened as I read it, and I have a strong stomach. What are our intrepid Dr. Who heroes doing in a monstrosity such as this? Not much, actually, which is another problem with this book.
The Indoni have colonized an alien planet for years, making it a haven for tourists. Some Papul locals make their living from this tourist trade(women of the street, tour guides, etc) while others bristle under the oppressive regime. But something is lurking in the jungles. 400 year old tribal mummies have come back to life and begun murdering tourists. Ferocious beasts roam the jungle, making food out of unsuspecting prey. The local population in the jungle seem to have reverted to cannibalism, all at the direction of some mysterious man, the Krallik. The Doctor's insatiable urge to investigate leads them right into the middle of a civil war, an ugly one at that. None of the sides are particularly attractive and the Doctor has to rescue his friends and try to keep them alive. Along with getting to the bottom of things, of course, like he always does.
I'll get the main problem with this book out of the way, because it's a question of taste and style. Mick Lewis' first Who book, Rags, was an interesting look at violence and how it affects us. It was a horror book, but it seemed to have a point to make about violence. Combat Rock, however, seems to be missing even that justification. It is an ugly book, but it doesn't seem to be an ugly book with a purpose. It's full of violence, with descriptions of people being incinerated, brains being eaten, shot with blood pumping, and dismemberment. The excessiveness of it hardened me to it after a while, but it was still extremely unpleasant to read. If you're squeamish at all, avoid this book like you would a Michael Bolton song.
When I say style, I mean the fact that Combat Rock doesn't fit in with the Second Doctor's era at all. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria seem horribly out of place in this book. I'm sure Lewis was trying to contrast the innocence of the era with the ugliness of reality, but it just doesn't work. I don't like seeing Victoria, a 19th century upper-crust young British woman, threatened with violence in the middle of the jungle. It's not something I want to read about. Jamie isn't as bad, considering the fact that he comes from a Scottish combat background to begin with. The Doctor feels lost in the middle of all this, though he does wonderfully in the final confrontation with Krallik
Another problem with the book is that it's full of extraneous characters. Lewis does nothing with the two female Indoni other than have them along for the ride and have them threatened by their captors. The mercenary team roaming the jungle does a lot of shooting, killing, burning, maiming and some sleeping around, but ultimately don't amount to much. Lewis attempts to give their leader, Pan, a bit character by going into his background to explain why he treats women the way he does. Since he bored and disgusted me, you can just imagine what those sequences did for me.
Even a worse sin, however, is what Lewis does with the regulars. Mainly,nothing! They are along for the ride, but other than the Doctor's final confrontation with Krallik, they don't do anything. They get captured, and they go places. Jamie gets sent on a combat mission with the rebels and Victoria gets captured by the Indoni and sees how ugly they are, but neither of them actually does anything throughout their whole time onscreen. Their characterization is ok (though the Doctor doesn't feel like Troughton despite a couple of "oh my giddy Aunt!" expressions), but they are extra. This story would hardly have changed if it were not a Dr. Who story. That's inexcusable in my book.
There is not a likable character in the bunch. There are two semi-likable tourists who are captured along with the Doctor's party, but we don't see much of them and then they are summarily killed (or at least one of them is, but the other one disappears, so it amounts to the same thing). I cared about what happened to the Doctor and his companions, but I already know they're going to be safe (they do have some TV stories after this to star in). I didn't care if anybody else lived or died, not even the missionaries.
I never thought I'd give a 1 star rating to any book that I had finished, because if I was able to finish it then there had to be something to keep me reading. But I have to do it here, because I cannot recommend this book at all. Maybe if you're a horror fan who likes blood and gore, you may like this one (assuming the Dr. Who logo doesn't turn you off). Only the completist Dr. Who fan in me kept me going through this one.