John: I think this might be the first one where we have very different opinions on the book. I really got into the whole Gothic atmosphere thing, and you...?
Dee: It’s not so much that I didn’t get into it. It’s that I never really got a handle on how the place looked, so for me it was a lot of running through corridors. It was just the corridors clearly had open tops. Note that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think I missed out on a lot of the atmosphere. It would have been worse, I think, had I not seen “The Doctor’s Wife,” because that was some really creepy running and I think I transferred some of that feeling of doing the same thing over and over and over and time being messed around into the book. So thank you again, Neil Gaiman and team, because I think it may have actually saved the book.
John: Interesting that you should bring up “The Doctor’s Wife”, because both those stories feature the TARDIS as more than just a device to get the Doctor into the story. But while Gaiman’s story was about making the TARDIS relatable, putting it into terms that the Doctor (and the audience) could understand for a brief while, this one was about making you understand how genuinely alien it really is. It’s not just a spaceship mixed with a magic wardrobe, it’s an environment all to itself. And a dangerous one, too. It’s an idea the series has kind of been working towards since ‘Logopolis’, but I think this is its furthest extension.
Dee: Oh yeah. I’ve always felt the TARDIS’s dimensions had a downside, but by and large it’s safe... but that’s because it likes its people. (And I thought that even before Gaiman gave it words.) Here, the wounded TARDIS is angry and hurt and needs help, darnit, and the Doctor can’t...quite... manage it. And Ace is trying, but she’s only human really.
The thing I really liked about the book was the fact that just about everyone was a jerk. That’s hard to do well! You want the Phazels to get a grip, you want the kid to grow the hell up really, you want Ace to clock everyone one and fix it, and you really want someone to lay out Vael for a good long while. And I don’t like the Doctor in this book. He’s still a hero, but good grief, he is hard to like at all.
John: I think he’s hard to like because his mind is being affected. Not to spoil, but the idea introduced here that the Doctor’s in a sort of symbiotic relationship with his timeship, and that things that make the TARDIS go wrong also make the Doctor go wrong, is going to be a feature for a while. In fact, on and off, it’s going to be a feature for the rest of the series. The Doctor in the novels is far more “at one” with the TARDIS than any before or after. (At least, I think “after”...can you think of that being used in the new series at all?)
Dee: No, I can’t. In fact, I think from Nine on he’s deliberately divorced himself from it. And I agree with you about the cause, no mistake. But it’s still enough to make you say “AUGH!” and want to coredump everything into his brain. He can take it, he’s a telepath!
John: From 2005 on, he’s a telepath. Back in the 90s, it was pretty much agreed that the Time Lords gave up their telepathy as part of the same process that made them Time Lords, which is why the Phazels are all uber-telepathic and the Doctor doesn’t do it that much. They talk about people being “Individuals”; the suggestion is that they’re people who can block out the telepathic crowdsourcing and think for themselves. And they, by implication, are the people who wound up forging the new Gallifreyan society. Um...is this where we want to talk about the Ancient Gallifrey stuff?
Dee: On the one hand yes. On the other... Oh, do we have to?
Just kidding, because yes, we do. The Cartmel Masterplan, the Looms, Cousins, the inability of Time Lords to bear children... yeah, it’s all here. All of these things that make the Doctor’s culture really alien, instead of being glorified, well, Helleno-Romans who live a very long time. I love it so much.
John: And we’re never going to get this much of it at once, ever again. I really can’t describe the impact of this at the time; it was like we were finally being given all these secrets that were considered to be totally off-limits for Doctor Who. Stories about Ancient Gallifrey were as taboo as pre-Unearthly Child stories...which, of course, Platt does as well. And as I said in my review, what we get really feels like it’s interesting for its own sake, and not just because it’s the past of the Doctor’s homeworld. Little touches, like the “junk thoughts” spread by salesmen, or the Book of Future Histories (and I love the Doctor’s little line about how it became a lot less important once it stopped being a book of prophecies and started just being a book of history...)
Actually, I’ll just pause here to say that I loved the confrontation between the Doctor and the Pythia. That scene genuinely crackles with tension, because both of those characters have been established so well as dominant figures in their own right. I think that might be the best scene in the book for me.
Dee: For me, it’s the moment when Ace realizes the Doctor is not “with it” and she’s going to have to wing it. It’s so easy for us now to think that’s not unusual, thanks to Paul Cornell and the Eighth Doctor in the movie. But it’s clearly unsettling for Ace, and she’s still not entirely over the events of the previous novel. For her to come back so strongly and compassionately is awesome.
John: Oh, this is definitely a novel for Ace-lovers. She takes center-stage for almost the whole book, having to cope in a totally alien environment with no Doctor, no TARDIS, and no explosives to speak of, and she does wonderfully. It reminds you that she was coping pretty well with being stranded in space-time before she even met the Doctor and his magical translator and handy gizmos. You can tell this was written by one of the guiding lights of her time on the series in a way that, say, ‘Timewyrm: Exodus’ clearly wasn’t.
Dee: Ace needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, and Shonnzi clearly wasn’t the one for her. But I loved the way that was handled. “Nope, sorry, we need him, can’t have him traveling around with you...” and we don’t have to get into the paradoxes and so on. And we don’t have to worry about a second Adric, which is what he would have been within about three novels.
John: It’s interesting you mention that; it’s almost a running theme, them trying to give Ace a love interest and her more or less saying, “Uh-huh, you’re cute, but I’m not really interested in anything long-term.” Something to keep in mind as we move along through the books, I think. Ace really is the anti-companion in a lot of ways--probably because the books are being written by people who are aware of the show’s conventions, so they’re constantly kicking back at them. All the New Adventures companions are people who wouldn’t be companions on the TV show. (Except maybe Chris, who’s a template for Jack. But I’m getting ahead of things...)
Dee: Yes, but what I want to get at here is that they don’t want to redo some things they’d done with other characters as well. It’s not just Ace. It’s the avoiding of an Adric, it’s the inverting of the TARDIS as a place of total safety which we had in the first three books and Cornell chipped away at. And I don’t think it’s just kicking back at conventions. I think it’s the idea of expanding on what might have already been there... this harking back in a way to a First Doctor story, for instance, in that the TARDIS is trying to get things across in a much more definite way than later stories.
John: I think those two things go together. An awareness of the program’s traditions means deliberate subversion of them, because that’s a key element in drama and comedy--you set up the audience to think one thing, and then surprise them for either dramatic or comic effect. But it also means a respect for them, so you get a story that expands and elaborates on the idea of the TARDIS as an alien environment that isn’t necessarily “safe”. There was a planned story back in the 80s that involved the TARDIS landing inside itself that I think Platt must have been inspired by, and as I mentioned, ‘Logopolis’ features a scene where two TARDISes land inside each other and the recursive topography of the ship becomes menacing. (That’s also where the Cloiser Bell was first used. I keep picturing the bells in the City as being weirdly remixed versions of the Cloister Bell...) All of these things show that Platt wants to build on what came before even as he refuses to give you what you expect.
And on that note, we’re off to Platt’s old boss, and a story that definitely subverts what you’d expect from a Doctor Who story. Not always to its benefit...