Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: Doctor Who - The Forgotten Army

As wonderful as it's been to see the return of Doctor Who to our television screens, it's difficult to argue that TV's gain hasn't been print's loss. Whereas we used to get classic novels like 'Transit', 'Human Nature', and 'Set Piece' (to name just a few of the many, many classic novels released during the fifteen years that the series was off the air), now we get empty wastes of space like 'The Forgotten Army'. Although honestly, it's an insult to the other empty wastes of space that are the current book line to lump 'The Forgotten Army' in with them.

For one thing, it's pretty clear that Brian Minchin didn't have a chance to see an episode of the new season, and is working entirely from the writers' bible in his portrayal of the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. This is a bigger problem than it sounds like, because an actor's portrayal changes the way the character actually behaves, not just in the subtle ways (Karen Gillan's portrayal softens Amy's rough edges and makes her more charming and likeable) but in overt ways, as the writers see the way the actor plays the character and adjust the scripts accordingly. So an Amy Pond that's written just from the initial concept of the character comes across as startlingly unlikeable, while an Eleventh Doctor written just from a quick glimpse of the writers' bible comes across as a spastic idiot obsessed with bow ties. (Yes, yes, I hear you in the back. Shush. Matt Smith is sodding brilliant.)

But even if you account for that, this still is a pretty terrible book, because it never feels like Minchin is trying. The idea of little teeny aliens invading Earth by hiding in a woolly mammoth (that they think is perfect camouflage) should be the start of a hilarious romp, but Minchin never gives the aliens any personality and the whole thing winds up feeling terribly generic. It's as if he feels like he's "just" writing for kids, so why should he bother working hard? (And the actual children in the novel feel as though they're shoehorned in so that the kids reading can say, "Ooh, kids like us!")

When I described this novel to my wife, she said, "But it's still not as bad as 'The Pit', right?" I replied that I wasn't so sure. 'The Pit' might have been bloody awful, but I felt like Neil Penswick went out and wrote the best novel he was capable of. On reading 'The Forgotten Army', I felt like Brian Minchin went out and wrote the worst novel he thought he could get away with.

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