John: The one thing I’m going to admit that the detractors of this book have right is that Paul Cornell has no idea what punk rock was about in the Seventies. Punk wasn’t actually about the political importance of anarchy; ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was taking the piss out of people who cared about that sort of thing. It appropriated the symbols of politics in service of nihilism, suggesting that the only real use for political symbols and movements was in displaying them in front of people who hated them and watching the sparks fly. If a real band had played a song called ‘Dissent Is Good’, like Plasticine did, someone would have cut their mike about thirty seconds in. That said, pretty good book, huh?
Dee: I loved it. I had such a good time reading it, and it’s one I’d go back and read again just for fun. The Brig, Danny, and oh my goodness the Monk... so entertaining. If Cornell didn’t get punk, he did understand the Monk’s motivations perfectly. Also, origami.
John: It’s one I do go back and read again just for fun. Because it is fun. It’s so much fun. It is such a wonderful catharsis, after five solid books of “grim grim angst angst grouchy grouchy grouchy”, to see the Doctor win in such a magnificent, clever, spectacular, oh-my-freaking-grud-how-did-he-do that sort of way. It’s a clear influence on Moffat, now that I think about it; having the Doctor do something extraordinarily clever and wibbly-wobbly (if not actually timey-wimey in this case) that he waits to reveal to the audience until the last moment so as to preserve the wonderful gobsmacked-ness of it all is a very Moffat-y thing. And yes, origami is a Moffat-y thing too.
Dee: It’s the kind of thing he wishes he’d thought up first, yes. I wonder if Amy wasn’t in some way a recovery from Ace in the books. In some ways they have similar personalities. But really, I don’t want to compare this to Moffat too much. I want to talk about how much fun Benny is. I want to talk about the Brig’s perception and wisdom and his learning from his past experiences to keep from getting found out by the baddies. I want to talk about Ace’s being able to fool everyone. And I have to say, this is the book where I first found myself really liking Benny and seeing what everyone saw in her.
John: And coincidentally, this is the first book since ‘Love and War’ written by the guy who created her, and the first where he’s allowed to really play with her. You remember how I said that I felt like in ‘Love and War’ Benny wasn’t so much a part of the plot as a character who wandered through and explained her backstory? She doesn’t feel like that here. She feels like a proper viewpoint character, arguably the main character of the story, and she’s really good in that role. She’s the only person who has no trouble holding fast to her principles, because her principles are all about small kindnesses and human decency being the really important things when you get right down to it. And I think she’s vindicated in that, especially at the end where the Doctor symbolically restores his TARDIS to the blue box. (Which is now Cornell’s third book where the Doctor renounces his manipulative ways and vows to be a straightforward adventurer once more, but I forgive him that because it’s also a book where Ace learns that sometimes you gotta be sneaky.)
Dee: I agree. I think the events of Conundrum make it easier for her to do and say the things she does. She is really, really good to Danny and the other band members, and they appreciate it. Her reaction to the bomb is wonderful. I also like your point about Ace learning to be sneaky, but that is partly because she’s chasing something from someone who has the power to make her regret just about everything in her life. I love the red-clad woman bits of the book. At first, I thought they were a mind control device from the Monk. I was glad to be wrong.
John: No, they were awesomely fanwanky fanwank instead. (I find it amusing, by the way, that Craig Hinton reviewed this for Doctor Who Magazine and complained about how fanwanky it was to bring back so many old elements like the Chronovores, the Vardans and the Monk...and then he went on to write ‘The Quantum Archangel’. Bless his heart.) Actually, that’s something that takes some getting used to as I go back into the Wilderness Years stuff, how continuous the threading of continuity was through the work. It was like we were all speaking in a secret code back then, dropping all these references throughout each story as if to say to each other, “You get it, right? You’ve picked up on the secret messages that we’ve implanted into this TV tie-in, and you’re one of the We.” It makes more sense when you remember that these authors were really Internet-present back then during an era when that wasn’t as common, and that readers could go onto rec.arts.doctorwho and say to Paul directly, “I loved the ‘chap with ‘Wings’ reference!” It was a really weird sub-culture thing, I think, and you don’t see it at all anymore on the new series.
Dee: Having memory of the 70s makes me giggle at that because I remember not getting what the big deal was... it sounded like perfectly good music to me. I liked that part of it more than the in-joke for fandom. But I get what you’re saying there, of course. I just wasn’t a part of that culture. (I wonder if I’m going to be visited by a gatekeeper now? “You don’t like the joke because of the chap with the wings bit? You are NO TRUE WHOVIAN!”)
John: I hope not. I mean, I’ll admit that one of the weird things nowadays about the new series is that it’s so easy to get into. You can pick up everything you need to know about the new Doctor Who over the course of a week or so with Netflix, whereas back in the day, getting every single joke in ‘No Future’ probably involved a masterclass in British Popular Culture. (I didn’t get everything either. I mean, I maybe got more of the Doctor Who jokes than you did, but I have no idea who the Goodies or the Wombles are, and I don’t think I could even name a single Wings song.) But I like to think that I have enough perspective to understand that those things aren’t actually important, just because they’re ‘Doctor Who’ references. Trivia is called that for a reason, after all.
Dee: Back to the Brig... I loved the natural progression of his growth from the series. It made perfect sense to me, the Buddhism idea. At the beginning of the book, I was as stunned as I was supposed to be by his behavior, of course. When the explanation came through it almost made an audible click, it matched so perfectly.
John: Oh, yes, it’s a perfect evolution of the character, and a wonderful comment on the Buddhist threads that ran through the series in that era. Barry Letts, the producer, was famously converted to Buddhism not long before he took over Doctor Who, and he tried to work little subtle references to the attainment of enlightenment and the abandonment of worldly things. The Third Doctor’s regeneration is presented as a sort of Buddhist parable; in that light, having a Zen Brigadier was a perfect evolution. And since they never used the Brig much in the new series, we can imagine that this was how he finally wound up. YAY!
And on that note, it’s time to move on to a book that both of us liked, um...considerably less. Join us next time as we slog through ‘Tragedy Day’!