Dee: OK, love, I think you have some ‘splainin’ to do. When you told me this novel was “bad,” you did not say “really, really, really bad.”
John: Well, if I started in on the superlatives now, how would I be able to describe ‘The Pit’?
Dee: Ha ha. So, anyway. “Timewyrm: Genesis:” bad enough that should be “Genysys,” or simply awful?
John: Everything had extra y’s in the 90s. It was the way of things. And yes, there’s no question this one was a bad one. I think we both agree on that. But I’m not sure I agree with you that it had the potential to be really good. I think it had the potential to be an unambitious potboiler, the kind of thing that would fill a gap in the release schedule. But for it to be really good, it’d have to be something more than a bog-standard “The Doctor meets someone famous and fights aliens interfering in history” plot.
Dee: I disagree. I think that is exactly, precisely what the novels needed: to take something bog-standard and do it with excellence, throwing in things that are impossible to do on the screen. The same, but more and better! to woo in the loyal fans. Then, if you want, start pulling in new things.
John: In fairness, it’s a lot harder to judge this as a good plot once people have tried things like ‘Father Time’ or ‘The Year of Intelligent Tigers’ (to pick a couple of books that I know you’ve read.) But it’s not really worth arguing about the relative merits of the story we didn’t get, not when the story we got did so little with what it had. Whatever the concept, Peel just didn’t execute.
Dee: Why didn’t we get more verse sections? Or even replace whole boring stretches with verse? THAT would have been awesome. And I suppose we have to talk about the Doctor’s past selves here. I will try to avoid ranting...
John: Oh, I won’t. I swear, I cannot for the life of me understand why the very first novel of the Seventh Doctor was given to a man who didn’t think the series had been any good since they went to that newfangled color thing. He portrays McCoy as a pompous imbecile, and an insensitive jackass to boot (“No, no, Ace! It’s vital that I leave you alone with the serial rapist again!”)
Dee: At which point I stop you to rant. OK, granted, Seven can be a manipulative bastard. But nothing in his portrayal on TV says “Hey! It’s perfectly OK to condone sexual assault in the name of cultural sensitivity when I am being taken as a GOD.” Also, I really wanted Ace to be armed with more than nitro-nine for those scene... pepper spray was available then, wasn’t it? I seem to recall my sisters having some. And also also, it’s one thing for the characters of the time to excuse Gilgamesh, but I don’t think, say, Eight would have not just left Ace with Gilgamesh, but shoved her toward him. I think Peel blew the characterization big time. You don’t get it both ways. Either the Doctor approves, in which case he is not a hero, or he disapproves and keeps Ace away, or he works to change things.
John: Well, he wouldn’t work to change things, because of the Web of Time and all that, but yes. Either the Doctor approves of Gilgamesh’s behavior, in which case he’s acting totally out of character in an utterly terrible way, or he doesn’t approve and is still leaving Ace in a dangerous situation, in which case he’s acting totally out of character in another utterly terrible way. And when Peel actually wants the Doctor to come off as competent and intelligent? He deus ex machinas in the Third Doctor to solve things!
Dee: And oh, that scene wasn’t just deus ex machina. It was a horribly written deus ex machina. And it showed all the previous Doctors were stupid too! Seriously, let a cyborg intelligence which has shown it can survive in computer systems into the TARDIS without one hell of a firewall?! Forgive the interrobang, but I really think it’s merited here.
John: I think by that point, the Seventh Doctor had taken over again to take the blame. By the way, the scene in question wasn’t just dumb, it was a shameless rip-off of a scene better done on TV in ‘Castrovalva’. By the time Peel did it, the bit was so hackneyed it actually got parodied in a later novel. Which we’ll discuss later, but it is worth bringing up the repeated and pointless invocations of older scenes....
Dee: I had utterly forgotten about it being done in “Castrovalva.” You’re right. That makes it even worse, and I am even MORE appalled.
John: But it’s really no more appalling than the Doctor randomly flashing back to the deaths of old companions, or infodumping his past adventures to an amnesiac Ace...
Dee: Don’t. Get. Me. Started. That whole second chapter made my teeth itch. “Oh, here’s underwear! Hee hee hee!”
John: Although it does take on an interesting new meaning (probably inadvertently) in light of a couple dozen audios, comics, and additional novels set in the gap between ‘Survival’ and this story. It certainly explains why she gives up “Ace” in favor of “McShane”, and then goes back to her teenage self without even a blip.
Dee: Just awful. I managed to find things I liked, but...but... but...
John: But you, like me, wish the whole thing had been done as an epic poem, the way it started on page one. Now that would have been ambitious.
Dee: I suppose we need to talk about Ishtar, but here my paganism makes me want to either rage or fall over laughing. Seriously, what part of “non-technological society” equals “dumb?”
John: Actually, I thought that was one of the better elements. King Agga isn’t portrayed as dumb at all. He’s in a desperate, untenable position, and he’s from a culture very different from ours, but he is doing the smartest thing he can in the position he’s in. Enkidu’s no dummy, either. No, my complaint was that the mythological elements made no sense. Qataka is posing as Ishtar to gain an advantage, but why is Utnapishtim Utnapishtim? Is it just a coincidence?
Dee: My take on that is that he was the source of that myth, where Ishtar is found in more places, so that didn’t ring false with me. But the culture is mocked for believing in deities, and while some people won’t have a problem with that, I did... for the reason that belief in the actual deities is limited to two people. One is made a terribly weak character and mocked for her ritual practices, and the other is the abovementioned serial rapist.
John: Oh, now that’s just not true! There was also the misguided dupe who was enslaved by a cartoonish supervillain for the mistake of trusting her lies!
John: ...yeah, pretty much. Anything else you have to say, before we leave this one behind and move on to a much, much, much, much better book?
Dee: Yeah, that it’s too bad Qadaka was a female character, because she badly needed moustaches to twirl?
John: And that it’s just a shame that this story took place years before the invention of the steam engine, because it meant that she couldn’t tie anyone to the railroad tracks.
Dee: Please tell me the next one is better.
John: Night and day, love. Night and day.