John: I don’t know why, but reading ‘Tragedy Day’ reminds me of nothing so much as the scene at the end of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, where George Carlin watches Bill and Ted practice and looks at the camera, shrugs, and says, “They get better…” It’s that kind of book. It’s so obviously the juvenalia that even ‘The Highest Science’ wasn’t, a sophomore slump from an author who would figure out exactly how to make work what fails here. Or was that just me? I mean, I know you weren’t fond of it either, but did you feel like it was Gareth Roberts trying really hard to make things click and just not having it all sorted out yet?
Dee: I don’t think he’d really thought through how to make the characters relatable. I couldn’t find any, except for Benny in a couple of parts, who felt like real people. That’s partly in an attempt to show just how decadent this culture was, but it was heavy-handed and really made the book a slog. It felt like no one talked to him about how to make things lighter. Once again, I am going to put a hell of a lot of blame on the editor.
John: I do think that’s part of the problem, yes. The previous five books had a lot of story hooks; “Ace and the Doctor are in a simmering conflict over the Doctor’s manipulaions”, “Benny is disenchanted with traveling in the TARDIS and contemplating leaving,” “There’s a shadowy figure playing with alterations to the Doctor’s personal history,” et cetera. Those were a lot of things that could spark a writer’s imagination. This? “The Doctor’s just traveling now, and he’s got companions he gets along with.” It feels rather flat. But I don’t think the novel does its best even with the things it’s got. Olleril never really feels funny enough to be a parody, and it feels too contrived to be real. Luminus is too pathetic to be a serious group of baddies, and too murderous to be joke villains. The slaags work neither as serious monsters or comedy monsters. Everything feels like it falls between two stools.
DeeL No, I don’t think that’s the problem. Ace and the Doctor are still fragile, and there’s a lot that could be done interpersonally with them to show that. You don’t rebuild that easily. Instead, they’re split up. I do agree that he couldn’t decide what he wanted to write, but I don’t think it was a lack of story hooks. And there are serious problems with the antagonists, all of them. Not just Luminus and its pubescent leader (which, ewww) but the big bads at the end, whose names I have forgotten.
John: I almost said “The Monks of Felescar”, but those were the guys from ‘Love and War’ who wrote that book. It says a lot that they’re more memorable than the big bads in this book. These guys were the Friars of Pangloss, but I had to look that up. And yes. They’re all utterly unmotivated. Crispin is taking over the planet and killing most of its inhabitants because, um...Reasons, and the Friars of Pangloss are EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL! Because of Evilness! That was actually the only bit of humor I thought worked, although it may not have been intentional. The Friars were so ludicrously and unmotivatedly evil that if it was parody, it worked. If it wasn’t, then oh dear.
Dee: And the way Crispin died was so very anticlimactic. It would have been one thing if he’d been portrayed throughout as a kid, but he was portrayed as a short adult with as many maturity issues as your average MRA Redditor. Which, of course, makes the Benny crush thing even squickier. I am glad Roberts got through this phase, because if you had only given me this book to read I never would have watched any of his episodes.
John: Anticlimactic and unpleasant, too. I mean, yes, he wasn’t portrayed as a kid, but I still felt like he was being killed off because That’s What You Do With a Who Villain, and Roberts didn’t even think about how it might come off in the book. There’s a very real disconnect, I think, between the way the book plays with the tropes of Doctor Who and the way it functions as a novel, and a lot of the issues come from the way that it breaks away from its own structure in order to make a joke about Doctor Who. Oh, and Forgwyn...is Forgwyn a Marty Stu, or just a badly-executed effort at making a sympathetic non-regular?
Dee: I am seriously hoping the latter. He’s pretty incompetent, really, and I would hope Roberts thinks more highly of himself.
John: And Forgwyn’s mom...actually, you know what? That I’m going to give at least mild props to. There’s something interesting about a character who’s sworn to kill the Doctor while owing him a debt of honor, and I like the way that he didn’t go the cliched route of making her deeply conflicted. She’s not happy about it, but she knows exactly who she is and what she’s about, and she is not going to let her guilt get in the way of her family’s future. It’s some good stuff. If the book had focused more about it, or even just had more stuff like it, I’d have enjoyed it more.
Dee: Yes. We didn’t need the stupid Big Bads. I would have loved a well-done novel with a fragile-relationshipped Doctor being pursued by a really competent assassin! Ah well. A book we didn’t get.
John: Oh, well. At least we’ll get more Cornell soon. Because it’s back to the audios, for our first listen to the one, the only Bernice Summerfield! Join us then!