John: Pfft. The Ponds. “True love”, they said. “Total commitment”, they said. All they did was jump off a building together. You and I? We read ‘The Pit’. Now that’s walking through hell for the person you love.
I honestly don’t know where to start here. It’s so bad, so very bad,
and yet to explain how bad it is might make someone actually want to see
if it’s as awful as we say, and I don’t want that on my conscience. I
could quote a couple of paragraphs, but it can’t get across the sheer
mind-numbing drudgery of 200-plus pages of that kind of writing. I could
talk about exactly how much the editing fell down by not rejecting this
outright, but I cannot imagine the expression on Darvill-Evans’s face
when he sat down with the finished volume.
I have to imagine, given that Darvill-Evans was not only the range
editor at the time, but also the writer of the next novel on our list,
that he either didn’t have the time or the energy to find something else
to fill this slot. I think it really was a case of “we either release
this, or we put out a book of cat pictures this month that ends with,
‘Oh and by the way the Doctor and Benny had an adventure too that ended
with a whole solar system blowing up, but you don’t want to see that.’”
And as it turns out, they made the wrong decision there.
I think that would have worked better. There is a silver lining, of
course: I imagine this inspired hundreds of aspiring, talented young
writers to submit their own ideas under the rationale that they
literally could not write that badly. But that’s some pretty tarnished
silver. I have to ask: was there anything, anything at all, that you
found likeable about the book? I think the unintentional comedy of
counting how many time someone “shouted (insert thing they shouted
here)” amusing, but then I was on cold medicine for the last 100 pages
I liked one line. When the cthon says that it’s getting stronger,
closer, more and more vivid visions of darkness and evil and armageddon,
and the shapeshifter responds with, “Yes, but think of the money.”
There’s a certain dark humor to that line that suggests that Penswick
came up with it ages ago and was just itching for a chance to get it
into print. If he’d spent that many years on the rest of the book, it
might have been worth reading. In general, though, the book does feel
like being caught out in a cold, wet drizzle that gradually seeps
through each layer of clothing until you’re utterly soaked to the skin.
Does that feel like the right way to describe Penswick’s prose to you?
Like standing right under a leaky drainpipe, with that drip-drip-drip of
monotonously uniform sentences plopping on you?
Only if you are in a straightjacket and it’s a leak of unflavored
pudding. (Can’t be flavored, it might actually taste good then.) If you
make that small change, it’s a good simile. Which, by the way, means you
can come up with a better simile in twenty seconds than he had in the
entire book, which he had who knows how long to write. I just don’t even
know what else to say. The entire Best Brains team couldn’t make this
book palatable. I seriously think it might be on a parallel with “The
Eye Of Argon” in some ways, without the fun of being able to be redeemed
by competitive readings.
Well, we could talk about what he was trying to say. Because that’s
worth pointing out--Penswick might have horribly botched the execution
of the novel, but at the pitch stage this must have sounded promising.
There’s a dark secret at the heart of the Time Lords’ history, born out
of the arrogance and incompetence of their greatest figure, and now it’s
coming back to haunt the Doctor on a planet that is destined to die in
seven days. That’s a good idea on paper. I can see how it would get
commissioned...although I can’t see how any of those chapters would have
been the sample chapter that sealed the deal.
The thing is, OK, I see your point... but I think that Penswick just
recycled plot ideas already explored in the TV series and added Arkham
House-like critters. By the time the Fifth Doctor regenerated we already
knew there might be more to the Omega and Rassilon story than the Time
Lords were saying. By the end of the 80s, we knew that the Time Lords
were by and large callous jerks. (I think an argument can be made we
knew that by the end of the 60s.) I don’t think there’s anything new or
particularly exciting being explored here, even in a plot synopsis.
Callous, yes, but this is the first time they’ve ever been portrayed as
reckless. The ancient Time Lords had always been portrayed legends that
strode the universe, maybe even that made it into what it was. Rassilon
had been portrayed as a mysterious wizard who lay in his tower
somewhere between life and death, and Omega was the Promethean titan who
stole the secrets of black holes from the gods and was eternally
tortured for it. Their battles against the ancient vampires were
portrayed as something out of myth. Here’s the first time we see the
suggestion that they might have been not just ruthless and cruel, but
out-and-out monsters. Even in later stories, when you see them as
genocidal warriors against the Racnoss and so forth, you don’t see the
demythologizing of the Time Lords taken this far very often. Penswick
was pushing the boundaries of the idea, even if it wasn’t new.
I am not so sure I agree. I think that the reckless idea had been very
well put across in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible by Mark Platt. That
wasn’t so long ago in our reading that I’ve forgotten it, you know! (And
the banging my head against a wall summoned by The Pit didn’t knock it
out of my brain either.)
Well, there’s reckless and then there’s “oh, hey, did we just punch a
hole in the universe? Whoops, our bad, don’t worry, we’ll kill anything
that comes out of it” reckless. I think that as bad as this book is, it
is a keystone to the direction that Virgin is going to take in the next
sixty-odd books. We are going to see a vision of Gallifrey that is
“ancient monsters doing battle with ancient monsters”, and the Doctor is
going to be seen as atoning for the sins of his people’s past...which
are also, just possibly, the sins of his own past. The Lovecraftian
angle is the completion of that vision--for the Time Lords to be
convincingly omnipotent, they have to be struggling against equally
legendary, opposite foes. Lovecraft’s mythos is really the only kind of
thing that can bear that weight. Again, this isn’t to argue that the
book is good, only that the book is necessary. A book like this needed
to be here at this point. Just a much better one.
I remain only marginally convinced, but then I’ve always felt the Time
Lords were exactly the kind of beings who would punch holes in the
Universe... because they’re so darn rigid when we meet them that it’s
always seemed to me that they were reacting against something. Be that
as it may, I need to get this taste out of my mouth. Bleah.
I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, the next book is
better. The bad news is, that’s pretty much only because you couldn’t
get a worse book released commercially that doesn’t have ‘Twilight’
somewhere in the title.