John: Welcome...to the ‘Blood Heat’ chat. (Cue John Williams score...) This feels to me like a big watershed arc, the point where the juvenalia gets all tucked away and the TARDIS crew becomes a functional group of friends instead of a book-long bicker each month, but I’ll admit that seems pretty far away at the beginning of this arc. In fact, I think they kind of try to make things worse before they get better. I’ll toss it up to you--did you feel like there was too much TARDIS-angst?
Dee: This book is dark. DarkDarkDarkDark. At some points I was thinking it read like someone trying to do a White Wolf game without any supers. But angsty? Mmm. I’m not sure I’d agree until the very end of the novel, and then the gutpunch seems to be almost par for the course of the book, a kind of “Well of COURSE it can’t be that easy, not this time.” But it made me want to watch “The Doctor Dances” to clear the taste from my mouth.
John: But at the same time, stories like ‘The Doctor Dances’ are written because the writers remember stories like this. Eccleston’s “Give me this...” moment comes from Moffat reading a story like this, or possibly even this very story, and imagining the Doctor so infinitely old and weary and heartsick from seeing death beyond human comprehension. And somehow enduring, somehow able to turn that into hope. Stories like this convey that he is alien, truly alien. And I think that part of the process for Ace and Benny is understanding that they have to take him on his own terms, that he’s not going to become a normal person just for them. That he will have his moments where he does terrible things, for good reasons. (And supposedly the arc is about the Doctor learning to do that a little less, but we both know that’s not going to stick.)
Dee: I know. It just strikes me that this is where Ace *should* be turning from him, at the end of this novel, and that it makes more sense that way than earlier on. And I really can’t see how the Brig got so clearly broken. And yet... I really actually liked this book, and I couldn’t tell you why looking back at it now.
John: I think it pretty much works on Mortimore’s prose skills. He’s an excellent stylist, to the point where I’m not even sure “prose” is the right word; there’s something so poetic about the way he describes the posthuman Earth, and paints such a vivid picture of something strange and new growing out of the bones of the Nightmare. I don’t think he’s always going to be able to carry off so much bleakness and ugliness with poetry (certainly I don’t think he manages it in his next novel) but here it works. And of course, the plot is purest fan-porn. A bad-ass Brigadier on the edge of madness leading a UNIT Resistance movement in a fight against the Silurians? You could practically hear the fangasm across the Atlantic.
...or did you not see it that way?
Dee: Um. No, I didn’t. I saw the Brig as a shell of a broken man, not a badass. No fangasm here. I didn’t see the group as really being UNIT so much as “who can we get together and oh yeah we’re ex-mil so of course we’re in charge.” The fighting almost got them wiped out early. I would never have had what you described occur to me.
John: Point taken. I should say that it’s a fangasm for a certain type of fan, the sort who wants to see ‘grown-up’ versions of all their childhood heroes, with ‘grown-up’ being synonymous in their minds with “sees violence as a first resort, is bitter and emotionally scarred, dispatches one’s enemies in gore-porn fashion, has casual sex/drinks/uses drugs/all of the above, and doesn’t display much of a moral compass because being a goodie is for chumps and suckers.” As you may be able to tell from my description, it’s not actually a viewpoint I’m enthralled by. But in the era this book was written in, this was a huge movement in fandom, and not just Doctor Who fandom. This was the era where Mystique and Sabretooth were aggressively promoted as “the new anti-heroic X-Men superstars”, the era where we got a grim ‘n’ gritty post-Apocalyptic dystopia in the X-books (literally--this was the dawning of the Age of Apocalypse) and...well, let me put it this way. This is where Warren Ellis’ career took off. Not where he started writing, but where he realized that the way to make money off of fandom was to write stories like ‘Ruins’ and ‘G.I. Joe: Resolute’, then use that money to fund his actual good writing like ‘Transmetropolitan’. Basically, the TL;DR version of that last paragraph is that the Brigadier in ‘Blood Heat’ = Spider-Man in ‘Reign’.
Dee: I am looking at you with the same complete and total lack of impressed-ness with which I regarded this kind of thing at the time.
John: And that’s an entirely fair response to me giving you a window on a type of human who thinks that the Brigadier is cooler in this book than he’s EVER BEEN. (Which, BTW, is also the look I give to people who really loved Future Amy in ‘The Girl Who Waited’. But I digress. Again.) The point is, this was a book that was practically a manifesto for the edgy, violence-is-cooooool type of adult Doctor Who fan. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that Paul Cornell’s book, at the end of the arc, is designed to be an explicit and glorious antithesis to it. But I’m getting ahead of the story. But at the same time, it’s hard not to because really, all that ‘Blood Heat’ is memorable for is the prose style, the grim ‘n’ gritty UNIT, and the fact that the Doctor is forced to do unspeakable things at the end and this...is only the beginning. (To coin a phrase.) Fair or unfair?
Dee: Fair. Also, congratulations: I now like the book less because I need brain bleach. The Doctor in that view is both cowardly AND cruel, and I can’t see the same guy in Remembrance in this book when put into that frame. I think I like mine better.
John: Well, I don’t know that the Doctor is part of that world. He’s visiting, and I think all the regulars spend most of the book trying to avoid the gravity well of grim ‘n’ gritty...but he doesn’t live there. In the end he puts it back in the box and says, “No. This isn’t the way things should be.” And he even does it in a way that lets everyone live. Does that help?
Dee: Eh. I won’t be rereading it. But at the same time, again, it was a good read while it lasted. And I’m already done with the next one...
John: And you may well have forgotten it already. That’s right, folks, up next is ‘The Dimension Riders’!