Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time by Paul Cornell: Saying Good-bye to the Twelfth Doctor All Over Again

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a TimeDoctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

by Paul Cornell
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 156 pg.
BBC Books, 2018
Read: July 24, 2018

He sent a wide-beam sonic pulse at exactly the right frequency all the way down that path between him and the tower, and was rewarded with a very satisfying series of detonations. The First Doctor skipped about at every fireball that burst into the sky. Finally, the smoke and flame died down. ‘There you go, all done.’

‘There could have been one right underneath us!’

‘Yeah, but it’s not the kind of mistake you have to live with.’ That was the other thing about his centuries of additional experience, he was a little more willing to roll the dice. Or perhaps it was just at this point he didn’t give a damn. What the hell, his clothes were already ruined, might as well mess up the bodywork too. It wasn’t like he was planning to trade the old thing in.

Okay…if you want to read me ramble on a bit about the place of these Target novelizations of Doctor Who episodes to me as a young’un, you can see my post about Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan, one of the other new releases in this old and cherished line. Which means we can just cut to the chase about this one, right?

Cornell was tasked with bringing the Twelfth Doctor’s last Christmas Special to the page — which includes the challenge of dealing with his regeneration in to the Thirteenth Doctor, which is no small feat. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, he’s got to deal with the challenge of having two Doctors meet up — and the extra fun of telling a story where two characters share the same name (and are sort of the same person, but not really), while not confusing the reader.

Cornell did a great job balancing the two Doctors, both going through some doubts about regenerating; while dealing with the question of Bill’s identity and the soldier from World War I. One thing I appreciated more in the book than in the original episode was the Doctor’s consternation when he realized that there wasn’t actually a bad guy to fight for a change. Not sure what else to say, really.

Now, the regeneration? Wow. He nailed that one, and got me absolutely misty-eyed in the process. I could hear Capaldi very clearly as I read these pages — the narrative added just the right amount of extra depth without taking away any of the original script/performance. It wasn’t my favorite part of the episode, but it was my favorite part of the book — he hit all the notes perfectly. The aside about the pears — great, I loved that so much. And then — a nice little bit with Thirteen, which has got to be so hard because we don’t know anything about her, so even those few seconds of screen-time with her have to be tougher than usual to capture. These few paragraphs, incidentally, made Cornell “the first person to have written for all the Doctors” — which is just cool.

In Twice Upon a Time Cornell has captured the letter and the spirit of the original episode, added some nice new bits and pieces for the fans and generally told a great story in a way that made you feel you hadn’t watched it already. This is what these books should shoot for, and Cornell (no surprise to anyone who’s read any of his previous fiction) hit his target.

—–

3.5 Stars

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A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell

A Long Day in LychfordA Long Day in Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #3

Kindle Edition, 128 pg.
Tor.com, 2017

Read: October 10, 2017


Lychford’s apprentice witch (not that anyone knows that), and owner of Witches, a magic shop (not that many take it seriously), Autumn has had a bad day. So bad, that a police officer has dropped by the next morning to interrupt an impending hangover with questions about it. She had a fight with her teacher and employee that left both fuming and ready to consider ending the relationships, and then she went to a bar not-really-looking for a fight, but ready for it when it showed up.

But when you’re one of three women responsible for protecting the borders between our world and the rest, and you’re pretty magic-capable, your bad days can have pretty catastrophic consequences. Without getting into the details, she messes up the borders, the protections — the magic that keeps all the things and people and whatevers out of our world that we’re not equipped to deal with (in any sense).

Meanwhile, Judith is dealing with the aftermath of the fight with Autumn in her own way. Which boils down to being crankier than usual, and then dealing with the fallout from Autumn’s error. Judith is primarily concerned with problems that the other two aren’t aware of and have little do to with magic. There were a line or two that I think were supposed to be spooky or creepy in her POV sections that really were just sad (my guess is that Cornell wrote them to work on both levels, but they really only served as the latter for me).

Lizzie got put on the backburner for the most part in this book — not that she’s absent, but she doesn’t have that much to do. Which is fine — she can’t be the center of each entry in this series, but I’d have preferred to have seen a bit more from her. I enjoyed the references to Lizzie’s Fitbit, it was nice to have just the hint of lightness in this otherwise grim story. Actually, the other thing that came close to fun in this book also came from Lizzie’s POV. She’s not the typical source for that, and it’s nice to see that she’s capable of it.

I wish these were longer — I know it’s supposed to be a series of novellas, but this one in particular makes me want for more — more development, more plot, more character interaction. I don’t think I noticed it as much in the previous installments, so maybe it’s something about this one. Still, this is a good story and time spent in Lychford is always rewarding.

In the end, this served primarily to set the stage for Witches of Lychford #4 — and maybe more. Yes, the story was interesting, and it was good to have this look at Autumn, and the whole Brexit tie-in was interesting, but this just didn’t work for me quite the way the others did. I have high hopes for the next, it’s not like I’m done with this or anything, I just wanted more.

—–

3 Stars

Chalk by Paul Cornell

ChalkChalk

by Paul Cornell

Kindle Edition, 206 pg.
Tor.com, 2017

Read: May 5 – 8, 2017

There are kids who went through school experiences like mine who will never watch football, and there are those who end up playing for Arsenal. Okay, who will end up with season tickets. Stockholm syndrome will only take you so far.

Enough about what I am now. That comes later.

Everyone keeps talking about this as a story about bullying — sure, there’s a little bullying here. But mostly, that’s like saying that Hannibal Lecter enjoys an unconventional diet. What happens to Andrew Waggoner is so far beyond bullying — it’s flat out assault (but with a psychological component that matches bullying). After a Halloween dance, Waggoner is forced into the woods by the school bullies and is assaulted. Somehow, his trauma links him to some long-dormant forces who take the opportunity to reassert themselves. One manifestation of the mystical/magical works with (compels? coerces? convinces?) Waggoner to take his revenge against those who permanently scarred him mentally and physically.

And over the next 12 months, that’s just what happens — Waggoner and/or his mystical companion (it’s never clear exactly how much is done by each) exact their revenge — Waggoner vacillates in his commitment to this project, and comes close to stopping on many occasions. In the midst of this, he becomes a writer and makes a friend based on shared interest, rather than just being social pariahs. In short, he starts growing up.

Meanwhile, the ancient forces tied to Waggoner are in open conflict with the dominant, more modern/contemporary, forces/beliefs. The school — and the students’ lives — become the major battleground for them, the final conflict coming on the anniversary of the attack that changed Waggoner’s life forever.

I kept seeing the school as the school from Sing Street (except, in the West Country, not Dublin — but roughly the same era), which I know is inaccurate, but I couldn’t stop myself. Pop music plays a large role in the story, and as it’s set in the early 80’s I didn’t have to google most of the songs (there were a couple of tunes that didn’t make it to Idaho that long ago) — which was a plus for me, and probably most readers.

You can tell (well, you can guess) that Cornell and Waggoner had similar experiences in their early lives — the language he uses to describe the bullying speaks to that. But more than that, the way he describes how the bullying shaped him, both then and when Waggoner reflects on those events from the vantage point of adulthood, resonated with me, and will with many readers.

The characters — bullies, victims, other children, or adults — were all wonderfully constructed. I’m not sure that I liked any of them (including Waggoner), but I was drawn into this world, and was very invested in what happened to each of them.

This was intense, gripping, strangely something (I want to say beautiful, but that doesn’t seem right) — there’s a je ne sais quoi about Chalk that inspires and repulses at the same time. I know I haven’t done a good job describing this book — I’m trying hard not to ruin anything for future readers. It was one of the more affecting, compelling books I’ve read this year. Cornell does a masterful job of mixing our reality with his fantasy — as he’s shown in the Shadow Police and Lychford books — this time you add in a layer of childhood horror and wonder to that combination.

This is something special, you won’t read much like it.

—–

4 Stars

The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell

The Lost Child of LychfordThe Lost Child of Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #2

Kindle Edition, 144 pg.
Tor.com, 2016

Read: November 2 – 3, 2016


It’s been a few months since Reverend Lizzie Blackmore, Judith (the elderly witch), and Autumn (now her apprentice and her employer) fought off the supernaturally corrupt megastore (and probably mundanely corrupt, too, come to think of it) and life has moved on in a relatively normal way. The three have forged some sort of alliance — easy for Autumn and Lizzie, already close, but learning new things about each other; not so easy for Judith to be accepted and to accept them, I don’t think. Autumn’s learning from Judith, while getting some help in her shop (which seems like a small town version of Atticus O’Sullivan’s and Alex Verus’ shops combined). Judith’s got something to do, a way to pass on her knowledge, and Lizzie is super-busy with pre-Christmas activities in the church.

But given everything we learned about Lychford, it’s not terribly surprising that things won’t stay that way, it’s just a question of what kind of other-worldly strangeness will come calling first.

In this case, it’s a ghost — or ghost-like apparition — that came to Lizzie at church. A small child looking frightened and worse for wear, with a simple request of: “No hurting.” Now, our trio can’t all agree on what the apparition is, but they can all get behind the idea of “No hurting.” They just have to figure out if that’s something they can stop — and then they’ll worry about the how. Neither piece of that plan works the way that it’s supposed to, but it seems these three are pretty good at improvising. Autumn, in particular, seems particularly adept at that.

I appreciated the fact that each of these women make one significant mistake (and probably some smaller ones) — two that come from inexperience, one that proves that experience doesn’t equal infallibility. They’re all believable, they do more than just advance the plot, they are honest with the characters and situation. Too often in novels you’re left wondering why a protagonist would be so stupid as to do X — when really it comes down to they have to do X or the really cool Y thing can’t happen at the end. That doesn’t happen here — sure, the attentive reader might be able to see the blunder coming around the corner, but there’s no reason to think that our protagonists should until it’s too late. Because while these three are fictional characters, Cornell imbues them with a genuineness, a substantial-ness that’s fitting for a real person (sadly, not always present with them, however).

Man, I had to use DuckDuckGo a lot to get all the cultural details in these pages — I know next to nothing about Anglican Christmas festivities, and less about British Christmas Pop Music. I’m not sure how much I’ll benefit long-term from this research, but it was interesting. I might have been better off not knowing anything about Greg Lake and his song, though.

If there was such a thing as magic, it wouldn’t look like anything from Harry Potter, Harry Dresden or some other fantasy series starring a Harry. It’d look like this, I wager. Quiet; shadowy; right out in the open, yet somehow unseen. All substance, no flash. Oh, yeah, and creepy — can’t forget creepy and inexplicable. Which is pretty much everything that happened in this book — up to and including most of the things the trio does to prevent things from getting really out of hand. It’s hard to talk about realism in a fantasy novel, but Cornell’s one of those that make you do that.

The Witches of Lychford was thoroughly entertaining and did a great job of establishing this world. This novella took full advantage of that to tell a more compelling story. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to read Witches first, but it’d help a lot. “I Believe in Father Christmas,” notwithstanding, I thought The Lost Child of Lychford lived up to its predecessor and left me eager to return to this little village.

—–

4 Stars

This Damned Band by Paul Cornell and Tony Parker

This Damned BandThis Damned Band

by Paul Cornell, Tony Parker (Artist)

Trade Paperback, 160 pg.
Dark Horse, 2016

Read: October 12, 2016


I’ve struggled for a couple of days now trying to figure out what I can say about this. It’s all about the premise when it comes to this book (a collection of issues from a limited-run series).

This is a comic about one of the biggest bands of 1974, Motherfather, on what could be their last world tour — complete with a documentary crew, a gaggle of groupies, and a manager who could be the hybrid of Wilson Fisk and Colonel Tom Parker. Like many rock artists of the time, Motherfather makes a big deal about worshiping the devil as part of their stage persona. While on this tour (possibly with some psychopharmacological help), they discover they’ve actually been worshiping the devil.

Oops.

Things don’t go all that well from there.

If you like that hook, you’ll like this book. Otherwise, just skip it.

Paul Cornell wrote this, so right off that tells you this is going to be well-written. A little humor, some real people and real emotions, and some seriously messed up supernatural elements. Cornell delivers on the promise of the premise — and a little more. It’s exactly what you want to read given the hook.

As for Tony Parker? I don’t think I’ve seen his stuff before — but I’m going to keep an eye out for it. I honestly can’t think of anyone who could’ve matched the style and story of this book like he did — either in the film sections, the visions/hallucinations, or the rest. Really great work.

I should throw in a quick note here, if it’s not obvious from the subject matter, this is not for kids.

It’s not for everyone, but it’s pretty entertaining. If the concept strikes you as up your alley, it probably is — give this one a shot.

—–

3 Stars

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Witches of LychfordWitches of Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #1


Kindle Edition, 144 pg.
Tor.com, 2015
Read: September 8, 2015

You ever get nervous about starting a new work by an author? Sure, in retrospect, it may seem silly to doubt, but for every Jesse Stone, there’s a Sunny Randall. As much as I like his Shadow Police series, I wasn’t sure I was up for something else by Paul Cornell. Thankfully, my apprehension was silly, because whether he’s writing about London or a small town, Cornell knows what he’s doing.

The town of Lychford is on the verge of dealing with a major assault by evil forces and for reasons you should discover for yourself, that is not something that can be allowed, because if they are allowed to invade, these supernatural forces will carry the day. So they must be stopped before they can begin in earnest.

These forces are, naturally, a large supermarket chain. What else? They’re called Sovo, and I’m sure they resemble no actual chain (or that Cornell has really good lawyers). But it seems that there’s more to them than low prices and a knack for ruining the lives of small business owners.

Now, your middle class activist types might get riled up by this, but there’s only so much that their petitions and flyers can do against the supernatural (not that they realize they’re going up against powers beyond their ken). Even when the supernatural are primarily using things like empty promises, bribes, and the allure of new jobs, there’s only so much that well-off Muggles can do (to borrow a term from some other series).

It’s going to take people able to see the otherworldly aspects of the PR Campaign that Sovo is waging to win the hearts and minds of the citizenry to thwart them. Now, typically, this is where we’d get someone like Rachel Morgan, Harry Dresden, or Peter Grant to come in and kick a little supernatural butt. Instead, we get such obvious heroes as a crackpot old lady and vicar who’s on the verge of losing her faith. Thankfully, the crackpot is actually a witch of sorts, so they’ve got a fighting chance.

For something a mere 144 pages long, this is an incredibly rich and well-developed world. The magic system seems pretty thought-out and realistic (for lack of a better word). The characters (those mentioned and a couple of others) are sharply defined and could probably carry a story by themselves.

Really, really impressive work — I’d love it if the work were longer, but honestly, I’m not sure if it’d have been as effective if it had another 1-200 more pages to develop everything. I think this ensures Cornell’s place on my “grab anything you see by” list without really caring what the subject matter is.

I was about to hit “Publish” on this when I had this thought — this reads just like one of Bledsoe’s Tufa novels would if set in England. For my money, that’s a pretty high mark.

—–

3.5 Stars

Audio from The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell

Recently, I received an email from someone at Audible.com:

I saw your great review of THE SEVERED STREETS and I wanted to make sure that you are aware that the book is also available as an audiobook from Audible Studios. I’d love to offer you a clip from the audiobook to post on the website alongside the review as multimedia content for your readers.

Seems like a good idea to me! I wasn’t aware that they had the book — but if asked, I’d have guessed they did — what don’t they have? Still, it sounds like a good idea (and hey, she called my review “great”). I added it to my review, but thought I’d throw it up, here, too. Seems more likely that people would see it.

The Severed Streets was one of my favorite books last year (see my review, and my 2014 Honorable Mentions), and I’d strongly recommend you trying it.

Anyway, here’s the clip, sounds pretty good to me. If you’re an audiobook person, listen to the sample. If you’re not an audiobook person, you still might want to give it a try — maybe you’re an audiobook person but don’t know it.