Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #85:Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles

This book is an eight Doctor novel, and requires very little knowledge of the TV show. If you don’t know anything about Doctor Who, the TV series, the audio plays and the many novels written, read the first four paragraphs of this review, and at least some of it will be explained. Fans of the current show should consider checking this book out, you’ll see where current show runner Steven Moffat got a whole bunch of his most well used ideas from (without ever crediting the original author).

The eight Doctor is playing chess with a UNISYC (formerly UNIT) general, when the general suddenly pulls a gun on him. The Doctor is surprised, but the general claims that the only reason no one has ever threatened him this way before, is because the various Earth governments didn’t believe he could be killed, but now they have proof. Intrigued by this, the Doctor handily escapes by diving out a window and into the hovering TARDIS outside.

The Doctor and Sam, his current companion, travel to the rain forests of what used to be Borneo, and crash an exclusive auction, where a mysterious relic is for sale to the highest bidder. Among the bidders are two UNISYC soldiers, a reanimated dead man called Trask, the Time Lord Homunculette and his companion Marie, a conceptual entity known as the Shift (who communicates with the others by rearranging writing in newspapers and the like) and two members of the Faction Paradox (a sort of twisted, evolved Time Lord culture). The auctioneer, Mr. Qixotl, is less than thrilled when the Doctor and Sam turn up (even less so when he realises who the Doctor really is), but to avoid upsetting and alarming the others, he allows them to stay.

Why is the UNISYC general so certain that the Doctor can finally be killed? What is the Relic that all these groups are willing to pay priceless sums to obtain? Who is the mysterious final bidder that Mr. Qixotl is waiting for? Why is he so worried and upset by the Doctor’s arrival at the auction?

The eighth Doctor, of course, only appears on screen in the dreadful TV movie from 1996, but has appeared in many of the novels, and about 70 of the Big Finish audio plays. Based purely on the various audio plays, he’s one of my favourite incarnations of the Doctor. This is one of my husband’s favourite Doctor Who novels, and he read it aloud to me. Like so many other good Doctor Who adventures, whether on TV or in books, it’s a classic “base under siege” novel. A group of people arrive at a location, there is an outside threat, they all have to try to make it out alive, and the Doctor is there to hopefully help them do that (but frequently ends up making whoever threatens the base more aggressive, as he has so many enemies).

I wouldn’t recommend this novel to someone who’s never watched or heard of the series at all, but if you’re a fan of the current series, especially the episodes written by Steven Moffat, then this should almost be required reading. It’s a fun, action packed story, with sections that are genuinely horrifying (at least to me, my husband didn’t seem particularly bothered).

Cross posted from my blog.

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3 thoughts on “Malin’s #CBR4 Review #85:Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles

  1. I’d heard there was all this great Eight stuff across different media. Can it be consumed in any order? Is it readily available? Do you have a recommendation for someone who doesn’t know Eight at all? (Say a top five of novels, audio plays, whatever.) Thanks!

  2. I can’t really say much about the books, as I’ve only read two of them (my husband’s the expert here), but The Dying Days by Lance Parkin is probably a good place to start. Otherwise my husband says anything written by Lawrence Miles is guaranteed to be good, but can be a bit inaccessible if you’ve not read a lot of the books.

    When it comes to the Big Finish audios, there’s several “seasons”, if you like, with different companions. Some of the stories with Charlie Pollard are good, I can recommend Storm Warning, The Chimes of Midnight, Seasons of Fear and Embrace the Darkness. I’d stay away from the others.

    The Lucie Miller audios are more like the modern series, and work really well for new listeners. The first one is called Blood of the Daleks and Lucie’s a companion for three seasons. Not all the episodes are as great, but most are a lot of fun.

    I can get back to you with more book suggestions, but I’ll have to ask my husband for advice first.

  3. Hi – Malin’s husband here. As a massive DOCTOR WHO nerd, I couldn’t resist dropping in to make a few recommendations :-) I don’t know how much you know about the various spin-off media, so I do apologize if this goes into WAY more detail than you’re looking for.

    There is indeed a fairly huge amount of 8th Doctor material out there, some of it excellent (and, of course, some of it a lot less so…). Unfortunately, some of it can be a bit tricky to get into. There are three main lines of 8th Doctor stories, all of which exist pretty much in isolation from each other (you don’t need to have read any of the novels to enjoy the audios, for example, or vice versa): the audio stories, the novels published by BBC books, and the comic strip which ran in DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE for pretty much the entire period between the airing of the 1996 TV movie and the arrival of the 9th Doctor in 2005.

    The comics are generally quite well-regarded, and are available in four collected editions published by Panini Books (‘End Game’, ‘The Glorious Dead’, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘The Flood’). I’m not a huge fan of the DWM comics as a rule, but I’m also a massive comics snob with fairly specific and set opinions on what makes for Great Comic Books, so my opinion should probably be taken with a pinch of salt – if you’re interested, you should probably try the first volume and see what you think, as the quality is pretty consistent right from the start. The four books should be read in publication order – they’re mainly comprised of stand-alone stories, but there is enough ongoing continuity that they’d benefit from being approached in sequence.
    (Interesting-ish factoid – when the show came back, Russell T. Davies actually offered DWM the opportunity to show the 8th Doctor’s regeneration into the 9th if they wanted – the only condition he gave them was that the Doctor had to be alone when he regenerated, because it was deemed important to the relaunched show that Rose Tyler be the 9th Doctor’s first companion. Unfortunately, the comic at that point was in the middle of a character-driven arc centred on the companion, Destrii, and writing her out would have undermined the planned ending. The final collected edition does include some concept sketches of the 9th Doctor still dressed in the 8th Doctor’s costume, though…)

    Malin more-or-less covered the Big Finish audio stories in her reply – I really do enjoy a lot of the WHO audios, but the bulk of the 8th Doctor stories are harder to recommend than those featuring some of the earlier Doctors because they’re very arc-driven, with a lot of fairly dense inter-story continuity which gets in the way for listeners who, quite reasonably, don’t want to listen to everything. The stories Malin recommends featuring the first audio companion, Charley Pollard, are all good-to-excellent, and are all perfectly accessible as stand-alones, although I would recommend listening to the first one (‘Storm Warning’) before any of the others. It’s probably the weakest of the stories Malin mentions, but it’s quite important, as it’s the first 8th Doctor audio, and also introduces the companion. A lot of the early Big Finish audios are available for download from http://www.bigfinish.com at discounted prices, although more recent ones are pricier. If you only want to listen to one or two, I’d suggest ‘The Chimes of Midnight’ and ‘Seasons of Fear’, both of which are superb (and are written by authors who’d go on to write excellent episodes of the revived TV show).

    If you’re intrigued enough to try more, though, the ones I’d really suggest starting with if you’re new to the audios are the more recent stories featuring Lucie Miller as companion. Lucie is great – a bolshy Northern English lass who has excellent chemistry with Paul McGann, and as a result his performances are pretty uniformly excellent. The Lucie audios were released as individual ‘seasons’ modelled closely on the post-2005 format, and are very much geared towards fans of the modern show (there are actually 4 seasons, not 3 as Malin said – again, they’re all available for purchase via the Big Finish website). The quality of the writing can be a little hit-and-miss, as is the case with pretty much all of Doctor Who, but as with all the best televised eras the chemistry and banter between Doctor and companion is more than strong enough to carry you through some of the lesser stories. I’d agree with Malin that it’s probably worth just starting at the beginning with ‘Blood of the Daleks’ and continuing from there.

    As for the novels…well. Personally, I’d say that the best of the novels are far and away the best way of experiencing the 8th Doctor (and yes, that includes the TV movie). Unfortunately, a] there are an awful lot of them, and b] quite a lot of the best ones either benefit from or actively require some familiarity with the events of earlier books. There are some excellent ones which can be read more-or-less on their own, though, for readers who (for some bizarre reason) don’t feel like ploughing through 70-odd full-length novels of highly variable quality. A few good examples:

    – ‘The Dying Days’ by Lance Parkin (Malin’s Cannonball III review explains this one pretty well)

    – ‘Vampire Science’ by Kate Orman & Jonathan Blum (contemporary – mid-’90s – take on urban vampire mythology. Technically predates Buffy, although you wouldn’t think so reading it)

    – ‘Alien Bodies’ by Lawrence Miles (what Malin said, basically. One of my favourite Doctor Who stories in any medium – contains a few hints and pointers towards the ongoing narrative arc of the novels, but works perfectly well in isolation)

    – ‘The Scarlet Empress’ by Paul Magrs (Arabian Nights-inspired magic realism – strange, funny and quite beautiful)

    – ‘Father Time’ by Lance Parkin (comes in the middle of a multi-book arc, but all you need to know is that the Doctor has lost his memory, and is living out the whole 20th Century alone on Earth for reasons which needn’t be explained. By the time of this book, he’s reached the 1980s, and ends up adopting a young girl and raising her as his daughter – it’s a rather lovely character-driven story, rather well-written and the sort of thing that would never work on television)

    They’re also quite hard to track down – they’re all out of print, so the only (legal) option is tracking down second-hand copies, some of which are quite rare and extremely expensive. Given that they’re currently completely unavailable, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, I don’t think anyone could be faulted for seeking out e-book versions… via…ahh…”alternative” means, as it’s not going to be robbing either the authors or the publishers of any income. If you’re morally OK with that, drop me a line at [mark n patterson(at)gmail dot com] (the name is all one word, no spaces or full stops) and I may be able to point you in the right direction.

    Hope that helps, and isn’t too overwhelming!

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