After my torrid love affair with Star Wars novels, media tie-in novels have always been literary butterfaces for me. However, since I'm fairly obsessed with Doctor Who, I've dipped my toe back into the fetid pool of media fiction. How did it go? The results were mixed.
Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In the far future, The Doctor and Amy fall in with a group of historical reenacters, the Terraphiles, and join them in their competition to win the Arrow of Law, an artifact that may be the key to saving the multiverse. But what does the Arrow of Law have to do with the notorious space pirate Captain Cornelius or the theft of Mrs. Banning-Cannon's hideous new gargantuan hat?
On the surface, this looks like slam dunk for me. Michael Moorcock, author of The Dancers at the End of Time - Good. Doctor Who - Good. A strong P.G. Wodehouse feel remniscent of The Code of the Woosters - Good. Too bad it wasn't.
The ingredients are all there. At the core, this feels like a P.G. Wodehouse book set in space. Bingo Lockesley is a lot like Bertie Wooster and Mr. Banning Cannon could easily be someone that puts Bertie up to a hare-brained scheme. Moorcock even writes this more like a Wodehouse book than his normal style. It's very remniscent of Dancers at the End of Time in that respect.
The Arrow of Law is a lot like the maguffin in many of Moorcock's Eternal Champion books and the Cosmic Balance winds up playing a big part. Captain Cornelius is likely an aspect of the Eternal Champion and one of the more interesting characters in the book. I like what Moorcock's done with the 500th century and its denizens. However...
My main reason for 2-ing the hell out of this is the lack of The Doctor and Amy Pond. The Doctor and Amy are barely in it and don't do a whole lot. It reads like Moorcock had a novel set in the future already written and just crossed out two of the character's names and changed them to The Doctor and Amy Pond. As a Michael Moorcock book, I'd give this a high three. As Doctor Who book, it's barely a two. When I read a Doctor Who book, I want to see the TARDIS in action and the Doctor using his sonic screwdriver in every chapter, not playing some nutcracker game and looking for a missing hat.
To sum up, it's a case of the ingredients not coming together properly, like stirring the missing eggs and vanilla into the rest of the cake batter after it's already baked for ten minutes. I will think hard before I pick up another Doctor Who tie-in. Unless Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi should happen to write one.
Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Doctor and Romana receive a mysterious distress signal, leading them to Cambridge University, home of The Doctor's old friend and fellow Time Lord, Professor Chronotis. Chronotis inadvertantly lets a Time Lord artifact, a book entitled The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, pass into the hands of a clueless young student. Unfortunately, an egomanic called Skagra also has designs on the book and will do anything to get it. Can The Doctor find the book, stop Skagra's nefarious scheme, and unearth the secrets of Shada?
I have a confession to make. Before getting hooked on the adventures of the eleventh Doctor and began backtracking, my only exposure to Doctor Who was on Sunday nights, waiting through Pertwee and Baker episodes for Red Dwarf to come on. I've since mended my ways.
I recently read Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles and was disappointed with it despite it having been written by Michael Moorcock. I'm happy to say that this one was loads better.
Crafted from mostly unfilmed Douglas Adams's scripts, Shada is the tale of three Time Lords against a man with a sphere capable of absorbing people's minds. Skagra, the villain, manages to be simultaneously menacing and somewhat ridiculous. From his first appearance at the Think Tank, Skagra presents a capable threat to the Doctor. The subplots involing the unspoken feeling between the grad students, Clare and Chris, as well as Professor Chronotis and his place in the secret history of the Time Lords, kept things from being The Doctor running from enemies on every other page.
The meaning of the title, Shada, is only revealed about 75% of the way through. I don't want to spoil anything but I would love to see Shada depicted in a future Doctor Who episode. I guess I'll have to settle for watching Tom Baker's run as the fourth Doctor.
The writing was very engaging. There were tastes of Adams' style throughout but without as much absurdity as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Guide was even mentioned once in the text. References to past and future Doctor Who episodes were littered throughout, even mentioning edible ballbearings. I loved when Roberts had the Doctor poke fun at his supposed reliance on the Sonic Screwdriver. "I'm about to not rely on it for everything again in a moment" or something to that effect.
In conclusion, Shada is everything Coming of the Terraphiles wasn't. There's plenty of the Doctor and the Sonic Screwdriver gets a fair amount of use. While there is a lot of the Doctor and companions running from enemies, there's a good amount of humor and dramatic tension as well. I wouldn't say it's a must read for Doctor Who fans but it's a lot of fun.