Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reviews: Ghosts of India and Shining Darkness

Re-reading the classic New Adventures (alongside my lovely wife, who blogs with me about them here) has had the unfortunate side effect of reminding me just how much of a shadow of their former selves the Doctor Who novels have become since the relaunch of the new TV series. Back when people like Paul Cornell and Gareth Roberts wrote for the books, instead of the TV show, we got vibrant and exciting new fiction that felt like it was more than just a line of tie-in books. Great new authors like Kate Orman and Lawrence Miles got their voices heard, the books were aimed for the first time at my generation, and they felt like the future of Doctor Who...because, looking back, they pretty much were. The New Series Adventures don't have that same verve, even if they do occasionally score big wins like Michael Moorcock's first Doctor Who novel.

'Ghosts of India', by Mark Morris, is a pretty good example of what we get now. It's not a bad novel, don't get me wrong. You won't mistake this one for 'The Pit', or even for 'Deep Blue' by the same author. But it's exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from a Doctor Who tie-in novel. The Doctor and Insert Companion Here (Donna) go to Insert Significant Time and Place Here (India in 1947, just as they were regaining their independence) and meet Insert Major Historical Figure Here (Ghandi, who's treated as a generic Wise Mentor figure for the most part with absolutely no effort to delve into the man's complex personal history) and fight Insert Alien Menace Here (the Jal Kalath, who manage to be basically an unmemorable collection of syllables that's EVIL!) to stop Insert Horrific Thing Here (evil radiation making people go insane and murderous, which is about as generic a Horrific Thing as you can get.) It's sort of a cross between a novel and a Doctor Who Mad Libs. Nothing to get upset about, nothing to get excited about, just something to while away a couple of hours reading and then put on the shelf.

But on the other hand, there are still embers of the old books flickering about if you have the patience to read through them all. Mark Michalowski, who was something of a latecomer to the old BBC line but who proved his writing chops pretty clearly, still has the enthusiasm to write something worth reading. 'Shining Darkness' mostly eschews continuity references to produce a funny, romping twist on the old "quest" story. It's still a book pitched considerably younger than, say, 'The Man In the Velvet Mask' (no companions getting STDs, you don't have to know who the Marquis de Sade was), but it's got some clever and witty sequences, the Doctor and Donna come off the page well, and there are enough red herrings floating about that the final plot twist actually caught me off-guard. It's definitely a nice reminder of how even though the new series has eclipsed the books almost completely, you can still find a few treasures in the dark.

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