Friday, May 17, 2013

The Dimension Riders

It's clear that 'The Dimension Riders' is the work of a first-time author. It has the very specific, utterly unmistakable feel of a writer who's been living with these characters and these ideas for years, perhaps even decades, and is so completely in tune with them that he totally forgets that we're being introduced to them for the first time. Daniel Blythe assumes a rapport instead of building it; James Rafferty is, to him, a well-known and beloved character who's an old friend of the Doctor and the Brigadier, with a fascinating past filled with adventures all his own. But he forgets to tell us about them. Instead, we get a blast of old continuity references and name-dropping, and a bland academic who wanders through the plot without really connecting.

The same goes for Romulus Terrin, whose tragic past is clumsily dropped into the narrative rather than being organically exposed, and whose supreme self-sacrifice falls flat as the emotional climax of the book because we just don't know him very well. (The same can be said, even moreso, of McCarran and Strakk.) It's not that Blythe is incapable of doing these things--there are hints here and there, with Tom Cheynor, of a personality that could be charmingly mischievous. But Blythe makes the unfortunate assumption that we know him already, instead of taking the time to introduce us.

Even the villains fall into the same trap. The Garvond feels like the work of someone who assumes the audience is already intimately familiar with 'Shada' and the rest of the Gallifrey stories; his scheme, an overcomplicated trap involving grandfather paradoxes, time-traveling spaceships, two TARDISes, and an assassination that happens a couple of times, never stops feeling abstract and unengaging. There's never a sense that we know what the Garvond is trying to do, or more importantly why it's trying to do it; Blythe assumes we already know. The President's downfall, which has the potential to be rich with irony, fails to affect because it's not really worked into the plot properly. It just sort of floats on top of it without getting involved.

Even through all that, you can see that there are seeds of talent. The plot is ultimately coherent, even though it never feels particularly well explained. Characters have detailed backstories, even the minor ones. The Doctor himself is portrayed as an alien wanderer haunted by his past, which is perfectly apt for this particular point in the story arc. Benny is spot-on as well, although Ace comes off a bit more like her teenage self than she should. Even the setting is nice, although here again there's a bit of first-novel jitters--it's simply assumed that Oxford is a fascinating, larger-than-life location with more than its share of weirdness and hijinks, so why bother showing them? And at 241 pages, the book certainly doesn't outstay its welcome...but a bit less tell and a bit more show would have done wonders for it, even if the page count would have gone up a tad.

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