Friday, 31 May 2013

Novel Review - Dr Who: Ten Little Aliens

This isn't, exactly, a Dr Who book.

Meet Haunt, Shade and co. Space marines. The book starts very much as a military space opera, as we follow ten soldiers on a training mission to a hollowed out moon. Soon their paths cross with the first Doctor and his two companions, Polly and Ben, who have also somehow found their onto the space rock. What follows is deeply routed in the personalities and history and the society they come from.

Not to say that the Doctor and his companions are unjustified additions here. In fact, Cole hands the two companions their regular role in adventures - proving (comparatively) more familiar eyes through which to view the adventure. There's plenty interesting going on with the first too, as his inevitable regeneration trudges closer. It's all very cleverly done, but not particularly natural.

The good news, however, is this is really the only major flaw in the story; and in a story that tries to do so many things, this is perhaps little less than miraculous.

It's a meticulously constructed - having not read And Then There Was None I'm not able to comment on it's similarity to it - novel in all respects. Cole takes his time to build up the setting into an atmospheric and evocative, letting us get to know the characters whilst cranking up the atmosphere. Plot and characterisation happens in a very careful and deliberate fashion, information drip fed to us.

It's a real genre buster this one: a military sci-fi story that dips it's toes quickly into other ponds. There is the obvious Alien similarities, and the story is a slowly unfolding mystery. Traces of haunted house can be detected under everything, and some of the concepts that happen later belong more to cyberpunk than anything else. It's a big and extremely careful constructed thing that at times becomes a little too much for it's own good. That's even before you consider the "choose your own adventure" section of the book.

When such a tantalizing mystery is set-up, the author always leaves themselves with the a potential problem: can the answer to the mystery match the mystery itself? In this case, luckily, the answer is a resounding yes. The plot threads come together gratifyingly well, and Cole is dab hand when it come to misdirection.

Ten Little Aliens has plenty of flaws, there's no doubt. But it's an imaginative, creative and complex story with a tight plot and some great characterisation. Cole's prose is well paced and atmospheric, and the narrative voice remains consistent whilst varying enough to give a good feel of each differing character. Ten Little Aliens may do some wrong, but it does far, far more right.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Audio Drama Review - Dr Who: Scherzo

The Beatles once sang: All you need is love. The Doctor, in Scherzo, is very quick to disagree with this conclusion.

Meet the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann, and his audio-only companion Charley. They've had a pretty rough time as of late and there's a lot of raw emotion hanging in the air between. Self-sacrificing and declarations of love have been strewn over the past few adventures, and now they find themselves stranded together in an unknown and scary new universe.

The Doctor, of course, seems to be finding this whole emotional thing a bit difficult. Since Colin Baker's Doctor, really, the Time Lord has been through a zigzagging a rather odd emotional path. Ostensensibly, the path Big Finish appear to be taking with the 8th looks to be laying the groundwork for the angsty and scarred 9th, and in this audio drama he edges uncomfortably close to outright dislikeable. There's something terrifying about the performance, and the way he treats his companion, pushing and pulling her mentally and emotionally. At times he even seems to get a vindictive sense of pleasure from this.

Between the writing, directing and sound engineering this story is a marvel. For a location that isn't really a location, the setting itself is endowed with so much character and atmosphere. It really seems to reflection the purgatorial fear and pain that the characters are going through, and a creepy array of sounds paints a full picture, paradoxically, of this empty place.

This is a psychological horror and a bottle episode, and when it comes to intensity and fear this story makes Midnight look rather tame. The sense of loss and pain amplifies the terrifying location and psychological horror that the two are confronted with; the "monster of the week" is ambiguous and strange enough to worm it's way into your mind.

Despite the emotionally intensive nature of the story, it is a low-key affair. Little happens, apart from a difficult conversation between the Doctor and Charley, whilst they go for a walk. To turn that into an intense, horrifying, original and extremely emotional experience is a testament to the skills of those involved.