Doctor Who: Rose by Russell T. Davies: It All Starts with — and Comes Back to — Rose

Doctor Who: RoseDoctor Who: Rose

by Russell T. Davies
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 197 pg.
BBC Books, 2018
Read: December 31, 2018

She ran into a cavern.

She ran into a vault.

She ran into a cathedral.

She ran into a huge space, a vast dome, with the Doctor standing at its centre, the grinning lord of an impossible realm.

It was like being plunged underwater, the sudden pressure in her head, and Rose thought, simply, No! and ran back out again.

Into the yard. The same old yard. With headless Mickey still chopping away at the fire door.

She looked back at the blue box. She’d left the door open and she could see, in the gap between door and jamb, that huge, strange space reaching far beyond, With the Doctor somehow in the distance, a small figure, a good twenty metres away and yet within a box that stood beside her, no deeper than a metre in itself.

I think that was the moment in 2006 that sealed the deal for many of us — Doctor Who was back. My kids (who were at the perfect age to be introduced to the show) loved that moment, but I don’t think they were sold until The End of the World the next week. But I was in from the time Rose Tyler stepped into the TARDIS — and (not at all surprisingly) her creator, Russell T. Davies, captured the moment perfectly in his novelization of the episode.

It’s more than just a novelization, Davies is able to take a lot of things that happened or developed later in the show’s run and weave them into this adventure (or at least set the stage for them) while he’s fleshing out a lot of things that he couldn’t get into the episode. We got a very nice glimpse of Doctors past and future (even post-Jodie Whittaker), and a very character-appropriate appearance from a future companion that made me chuckle audibly (that moment was worth half of what I paid for the book)

The prologue adds weight and context to the disaster of Rose’s store being destroyed (which is pretty easy to miss). Davies also does a great job at showing that Mickey isn’t just the loser that Rose is shackled with, but he’s someone worthy of her time and devotion. We eventually got to see some of that in the show — but it was about the same time that Mickey left. Here we see it from the start.

But the most important part of the book — like the episode itself — was Rose (it’s right there in the title). Davies probably knows her better than anyone, and is able to use that knowledge to flesh out the character, to helps us see (and not just assume) what’s going on in Rose’s mind. We see her loneliness, her sense of being incomplete, how she needs something more than working at a shop or being with Mickey can give her. Seeing Rose embrace her capabilities and end up as sure and certain as she is later. This depth was most welcome and made me miss Ms. Tyler even more.

I needed a quick, fun read after some pretty heavy reads — and the BBCAmerica Doctor Who marathon had me nostalgic already. So I’m glad I had this handy, it fit the bill precisely. It was a pleasant blast from the past with plenty of bonus nuance and detail from the man who brought us the new era of The Doctor. If you’re a Whovian who’s never tried one of these Target books — this would be a great place to start. If you’re no stranger to them, you know how good they can be. This is just that.

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3.5 Stars

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Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor: A Delightfully Charming and Fun Time-Travel Epic Kicks Off

 Just One Damned Thing After Another Just One Damned Thing After Another

by Jodi Taylor
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, #1

Paperback, 480 pg.
Night Shade Books, 2016
Read: July 30, 2018

Thinking carefully is something that happens to other people.

I lost my notes to this book, which is annoying me greatly. So I’m going to be a bit more vague than I want to be.

I could tell from the first couple of pages that I was going to have a great time with this book — our narrator is Dr. Madeline “Max” Maxwell, a specialist in ancient history. She is charming, engaging, brash, and funny. She’s a few more things, too, but let’s leave it there. Essentially, she’s a delight — it almost doesn’t matter what setting you put her in, what story you tell with her — I’m in.

Thankfully, Taylor puts her in a crazy novel, one perfectly suited for her. When we meet her, Max is being recruited by a former mentor to join St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a very strange research facility. These historians get their hands dirty in their research in the ways that no other facility on Earth can manage — they have time machines to take them to whatever point in time they’re studying so they can see ad experience history first-hand.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But things go awry — in spectacularly bad fashion. But, for these Historians, where there’s tea, there’s hope. Using wit, sheer determination, and a little luck Max and her new colleagues will have to find a way to meet these new and dangerous challenges.

There’s a lot more action and fighting than you’d think given that the book is about Historians and the Technicians who work with them. There’s a lot of humor, some pathos, a little love — and a little more sex than I’d prefer (thankfully most of it happens “off screen,” but not all of it). The plot is impossible to summarize well — it bounces around from point to point like a ball in a pinball machine. This is not a complaint, this is a description. Months will go by in a paragraph (or less) and then things will slow down for the events of a day or two. These are Time Travelers, after all, they can squeeze a lot of activity into a short period of time.

There are some other great characters here, too. Max has wonderful, loyal and capable allies (who happen to be interesting to read about); she has fantastic antagonists — the kind of characters you can relish your annoyance/anger/moral superiority over; her friends are interesting, he love interest is about as fun as you could ask for, and is charming enough in his own right.

I wish I’d had the time to write this up when the book was fresher in my mind — or if I’d not lost my notes. This book deserved a bit more from me. Basically, this book — between characters, circumstances, plot and tone is what I’d hoped for from the Tuesday Next books. I have no idea if Taylor can keep up the freshness of the voice, the zaniness of the plot, and the engaging quality of the characters (particularly Max) — it’ll be tough to do. But I’m looking forward to finding out. I had a blast reading this one, and can’t imagine that Taylor’s charm wouldn’t win over at least 87% of those who give this a try.

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4 Stars

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.

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3.5 Stars

Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan: Colgan Captures the 10th Doctor’s First Adventure Perfectly in this adaptation.

Doctor Who: Christmas InvasionDoctor Who: Christmas Invasion

by Jenny T. Colgan
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 176 pg.
BBC Books, 2018

Read: July 2, 2018
Back in High School, I remember attending an author event — some SF author that I’d never heard of (you probably haven’t either), but what did I care? He was an actual SF/Fantasy/Horror writer visiting Idaho (it happens a little more now, but back then I hadn’t thought it was possible). He discussed getting to write a novelization of a major Horror film thinking, “How hard can it be? Take the script, throw in some adjectives and verbs — maybe a few adverbs and you’re done!” He then went on to talk about all the things he learned about how hard it was taking a script of whatever quality and turning it into something that works in an entirely different medium. That’s really stuck with me for some reason, and I’ve always respected anyone who can pull it off well (and even those who get close to doing it well).

Before I babble on too much, Colgan is one who can pull it off pretty well.I discovered Doctor Who a couple of years before I saw that unnamed SF author, but didn’t get to watch much of it, mostly because I lived in about the only place in the States where PBS didn’t air old ones. I saw a few Sylvester McCoy episodes (mostly due to the magic of VHS and a friend who lived somewhere with a better PBS affiliate). Other than that, it was the small paperback novelizations of episodes. I owned a few, the same friend owned a few more — so I read those. A lot. Then comes Russel T. Davies, Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, etc. and all was better. But I still remembered those novels as being Doctor Who to me.

So when they announced that they were re-launching that series this year, I got excited. I own them all, but I’ve only found time to read one — I started with Jenny T. Colgan, because I know how Paul Cornell writes, and I assume I’ll love his — ditto for Davies and Moffat. Besides, The Christmas Invasion is one of my favorite episodes ever.

I won’t bother with describing the plot much — you know it, or you should. On the heels of regenerating into the 10th Doctor, Rose brings a mostly unconscious stranger into her mother’s apartment to recuperate. At the same time, an alien invasion starts — the British government — under the direction of Harriet Jones, MP — and the Torchwood project tries to respond, but really is pining all their hopes on the resident of the TARDIS.

Colgan does a great job bringing the episode to life — I could see the thing playing out in my mind. But she doesn’t just do that — she adds a nice little touch of her own here and there. Expands on some things and whatnot. In general, she just brings out what was there and expands on it. Adds a few spices to an already good dish to enhance the flavors. Colgan absolutely nails Rose’s inner turmoil about who this stranger in her old friend’s body is.

I particularly enjoyed reading the scene where the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, finally awake and ready to resume being Earth’s protector — between Rose’s reaction, the already great dialogue, and Colgan’s capturing the essence of Tennant’s (and everyone else’s) performances in her prose. Seriously, I’ve read that scene three times. I never do that.

I’m not particularly crazy about the little addition she made to Harriet Jones’ downfall, but I get it. I’m not scandalized by it or anything, I just didn’t think it was necessary. Other than that, I appreciate everything Colgan did to put her stamp on this story.

If the rest of these books are as good, I’m going to be very glad to read them, and hope that there are more to come soon.

—–

3.5 Stars

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu

Time SalvagerTime Salvager

by Wesley Chu
Series: Time Salvager, #1
Hardcover, 380 pg.

Tor Books, 2015

Read: September 12 – 15, 2015


Guess I should start with this: there’s nothing in these pages that’ll remind you of Chu’s Tao books. They could be written by completely different authors. Which is a combination of good news and bad news. The good news is that the reader doesn’t get a deja vu feeling reading, Chu’s ability as a writer and worldbuilder is displayed, and we get to see that he’s not a one-trick pony. The bad news is, the Tao books were better.

Not that this is bad, it’s just not Tao.

Chu is really smart about the way that he introduces us to the world, to the concept of Time Laws, and ChronoCom and all the rest of the things that you can read about in the jacket copy (or at the link above). Maybe it shows that I read too much bad SF as a kid, but I’m still really impressed by SF writers who are able to blend things into dialogue and story rather than just resorting to info dumps.

This is a Time Travel story where the Time Travel’s not really all that important. It’s just a tool. Like a cell phone — something that people use, but don’t really understand. No one (well, one person) here understands how it works, but they can use it. Ditto for all the nifty future-gadgets. So it makes it easy for us to not worry about it, too, and just go with the flow.

When you clear away all the bells and whistles this is a pretty straight-forward story about corporate greed, ecological/societal collapse, and a few people trying to do the right thing with the cards stacked against them (even if that pits them against each other). The bells and whistles turn this into a SF/Time Travel/Dystopian Love Story.

Not the best thing I’ve ever read by Chu, but interesting enough to make me glad I read it, and I’ll be back for #2. Maybe with is he can do something to make the series something I can get excited about.

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3 Stars

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Oy vey. After this, I’m forty-five books away from being caught up. 45.

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Outlander (Outlander, #1)Outlander

by Diana Gabaldon

Mass-Market Paperback, 870 pg.
Dell Publishing Company, 2005
Read: March 7 – 19, 2014

So when the announcement was made that this was going to be a TV series, the descriptions offered sounded intriguing — a mix of historical fiction and time travel. I figured the series was at least worth a look. I mean with that many sequels, it had to have something going for it. 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong, you know?

Well, they’re probably not wrong, but they sure aren’t talking for me. What an exercise in futility. I literally knew nothing more about the key plot point on page 870 than I did on page 100. While I don’t demand to understand everything fully (even if there weren’t a half-dozen sequels to explain things), but I want to learn something, not just watch hundreds of pages of plot go by to get us nowhere.

So, in the days after the end WWII, an English nurse and her husband — both back from the War and reunited — go off on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. While her husband, the historian, is off talking about local history, Claire goes off for stroll and (skipping details here) finds herself face-to-face with her husband’s great-great-something-grandfather. Who turns out to be not-a-nice-man. So Claire ends up running away from this British officer with a group of Scots. Eventually, she finds herself married to one of them, falling in love with her second husband and having loads of sex. And there’s some running from the Brits, dealing with local politics, merging 18th century medicine with 20th century medicine, and getting some sort of religious instruction.

Outlander is big, sweeping, well-written, maddeningly dependent on coincidence, with one-dimensional villains and wayyyyy too much sexy-time — and, worst of all, it’s ultimately pointless. There is literally no point to this all. getting to the expected point is really what kept me going for the last 600+ pages. There are people who will love this (obviously, just do a quick Google search), but I won’t be joining that number.

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2 Stars