Thursday, March 20, 2008

NEWBIE REVIEW #3: Players

While I still have the ability to post on my own blog, thought I'd post the next of ye olde Newbie Reviews, as they are by far the easiest 'regular' feature on my blog to post. (And also the only 'regular' feature to actually appear more than twice - this is not co-incidence)

The third DW novel I read was a bog-standard piece of Dick. s. Terrance Dicks' usual fine work in trying to see how badly he can write but still continue to be hired.

What did I say in my more diplomatic days...

Wow. Can you say 'different kettle of fish'? This like going from Earthshock back to Black Orchid - because this story is, much like that Davison gem, an entertaining little diversion.

Well - not that entertaining, really. The first half drags. After a silly little bit about running around the sewers of some alien world, Uncle Terry decides that he's had enough of Colin Baker and Pertweeifies the Sixth Doctor with undue haste, giving him fine evening wear and a desire to take Peri to see hoi-polloi life in turn-of-the-century London. Fair enough.

But wait! They aren't in London at all, but Africa in the middle of the Boer War! Can they form an unlikely alliance with the true-blue young war correspondent friend Winston Churchill, outfox their fiendish captors and avoid a stalking assassin to get back to Old Blighty in time for tea and scones and the Grand National. Of course they can: they're British! Seriously Boy's Own stuff, this, but thankfully it doesn't last long.

After some bloke tries to kill the Doctor twice with little pre-amble (by his standards, anyway) he twigs that something odd is going on and brings out the memory-displaying device from The Wheel in Space thus giving us a nice little segue to a mini-2DA at the start of Season 6B. This bit's pretty dull, too, actually but has some nice Troughton moments that make it worth risking drowning in the bucketloads of The War Games continuity.

With that out of the way the Sixth Doctor becomes intrigued by these odd figures meddling in time - these 'Players' - who are they and what do they want? Actually, it's probably best if you're not too curious about that because this plotline doesn't go anywhere as such. However, the second-half of this book is great fun!

Ol' Uncle Terry brings back Churchill, a slightly comic depiction of VonRibbentrop, the devious Wallis Simpson, and a loveably stereotyped Chicago private dick named Dekker. The scene? London in the 1930s, dealing with the political build-up to WWII. I loved this because this was a period of history I knew nothing about, and found it all truly fascinating to read about.

As I've said, though, the characterisation of Doctor #6 is terrible. There are certainly moments where he does feel like Baker, but they're few and far between. Most of the time he sounds like Pertwee or even Davison! And Dicks seems to have gone out of his way to make him seem more of a pacifist than he did in his TV stories.

Peri is good, though, and gets to show off her attitude in dealing with the comically bumbling VonRibbentrop and her nice little pseudo-rivalry with fellow American Wallis Simpson. Most of the characters are pretty two-dimensional, but there are stand-outs: such as the mysterious Count and Coutness (even if they get bugger-all to do)

I can't recommend the second-half of this book enough, in spite of the clunky prose and sometimes ludicrous dialogue it's firmly planted in the fun-but-not-classic region. Pity it has to have a first half 5/10


As always, the final score seems unduly generous. Now I'd give it about 3 because really... I did not rag off that first half enough. I made it clear it was bad but it took me AGES to get through. The writing was nice and simple, nothing at all to lose yourself in like some sort of sick river of marshmallow somebody made, but dear Christ is it dull. Runarounds, I can handle. Terrance specialises in 'sit-arounds' and 'stand-arounds'. Everyone chats patiently to one another before doing anything, and you get the vibe that Terrance writes imagining himself sitting their with everybody else, enjoying the tea and scones that somehow materialise in a Boer dungeon just because the Doctor and Churchill are around.

(Note, that's not an actual continuity error in the story. They just act as if there's tea and scones around.)

Has the sixth Doctor ever been so laid-back and inoffensive? It's the type of Sixth Doctor you could take back to meet your mum. Unless you hadn't come out to your family in which case the situation would be quite awkward. But seriously Terrance gets him out of the coat as quickly as possible, and into tux, suits, what the hell ever.

The end of the story is quite good, when Terrance remembers the sort of interesting things that happen in a Boy's Own Adventure which is, afterall, what he's actually trying to write here. But there's the usual shortfalls: abysmal characterisation of the regulars, all the historical characters are cardboard cut-outs existing to teach us about history and nothing else, and all the non-historical, non-regular characters are non-existant.

The Players are just a vague excuse for a historical adventure, rather than any sort of thought-out alien race, btw. Worth noting because that's why, in spite of all the shit they've started and the fact that the range of books ended with the last story in which they appeared, Terrance still hasn't killed them off.

It's quite annoying because if, say, Lawrence Miles, or somebody with unique ideas and a grasp of characterisation, wrote for The Players they could actually be quite good. But they haven't. Sigh.

5 comments:

Youth of Australia said...

I only got Players for the Season 6b stuff and even that disappointed me. Why oh why can't Terrance write for Doctor Who any more? He just churns out the exact same 'drop in for two scenes per historical period' plot with the Doc and companion disguising themselves as aristocrats, going to parties and spending lots of cash. There are IDENTICAL scenes of the Seventh Doctor and Ace, Second Doctor and Serena and Sixth Doctor and Peri drinking champagne and musing on all the important stuff in the plot Terry can't be arsed to work into a plot. And of course they hide the TARDIS. It's like he's hastily adapting a non-sci-fi historical novel to Doctor Who with the minimum of effort. Even Dekker's recycled from Dicko's "Blood Harvest"!

It was a relief that when he wrote for the Tenth Doctor and Martha, he held back from this crap.

And simply plagiarized Robot instead! Yes, why have a giant robot stealing stuff from impregnable vaults when you can have CYBERMEN that NO ONE recognizes! God damn, if it has been set in Wales, I could have made sense of it...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

I only got Players for the Season 6b stuff and even that disappointed me.

Yeah, it's... it's just bad. That whole bit with Troughton seeing Carstairs and Buckingham again, pointing out that they're in love with one another "Oh, we hadn't noticed that!" and pissing off again... it reads like fanfic. Y'know, bad fanfic.

And somehow I didn't buy Churchill looking at a castle and saying "Looks like it belongs to Dracula - did you want some garlic with your stakes?"

There are IDENTICAL scenes of the Seventh Doctor and Ace, Second Doctor and Serena and Sixth Doctor and Peri drinking champagne and musing on all the important stuff in the plot Terry can't be arsed to work into a plot.

Indeed. It feels a bit Chatham, even.

That's why I liked Endgame so much - the Doctor was on his own, didn't have a heap of money and, most importantly, didn't have the minutiae of the decade completely memorised. It wasn't high art, but it was solid storytelling.

Yes, why have a giant robot stealing stuff from impregnable vaults when you can have CYBERMEN that NO ONE recognizes!

...this sounds like the plot from Crimebuster!

Youth of Australia said...

Yeah, it's... it's just bad. That whole bit with Troughton seeing Carstairs and Buckingham again, pointing out that they're in love with one another "Oh, we hadn't noticed that!" and pissing off again... it reads like fanfic. Y'know, bad fanfic.
And the fact they'd just happen to be together when the Time Lords send them back... OK, I buy they have the ability to pair up the two of them, but I DON'T believe they would bother to. Hell, humans are gonna die in the war...

WHY on Earth the Doctor didn't go to pick up Jamie from certain death?!

And somehow I didn't buy Churchill looking at a castle and saying "Looks like it belongs to Dracula - did you want some garlic with your stakes?"
No. Oh, and am I sick of Terrance going, "Yeah, the Doctor's just like Churchill/Wellington/Oswald Mosley..."

Indeed. It feels a bit Chatham, even.
At least in Exodus Ace goes, "Professor, aren't we becoming corrupt bougious scum?" "Yeah, we better get out of this. After the dinner mints..."

That's why I liked Endgame so much - the Doctor was on his own, didn't have a heap of money and, most importantly, didn't have the minutiae of the decade completely memorised. It wasn't high art, but it was solid storytelling.
Endgame, yes, a story I really should praise more. The lovely moment where the Doctor is offered his memories and refuses...

...this sounds like the plot from Crimebuster!
At least the Cyberman returns to base going, "This is the most fucked up plan ever. Do you have any idea how humiliating this is?"

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

And the fact they'd just happen to be together when the Time Lords send them back... OK, I buy they have the ability to pair up the two of them, but I DON'T believe they would bother to. Hell, humans are gonna die in the war...

..that's another good point. They should have been sent back to where they were before being abducted, not to where they were half-way through the experiment rather than when War Games happened to start!

DAMNIT, TERRANCE! Can't you RE-READ the script before doing a sequel?!

WHY on Earth the Doctor didn't go to pick up Jamie from certain death?!

I have actually found that the most baffling bit from War Games - when the Doctor sees Jamie alone on Culloden, with nearby Redcoats who all want him dead.. and then he chuckles. Sometimes the Doctor's just weird...

No. Oh, and am I sick of Terrance going, "Yeah, the Doctor's just like Churchill/Wellington/Oswald Mosley..."

I could sort of buy the Sixth/Churchill comparison.. but Troughton and Wellington?! No. No they are not vaguely similar.

Everything else I've read suggests that the 'jolly Wellington' in World Game only exists in Terry's imagination...

Endgame, yes, a story I really should praise more. The lovely moment where the Doctor is offered his memories and refuses...

Apparently written by Justin Richards, that bit. But, hey, the story's cool so it doesn't matter where it all comes from.

At least the Cyberman returns to base going, "This is the most fucked up plan ever. Do you have any idea how humiliating this is?"

*Phew* Credibility feels restored..

Youth of Australia said...

..that's another good point. They should have been sent back to where they were before being abducted, not to where they were half-way through the experiment rather than when War Games happened to start!
Exactly - even given the WarLord being erased from time...

DAMNIT, TERRANCE! Can't you RE-READ the script before doing a sequel?!
I mean, he WROTE it, he should have some idea what happened in it.

I have actually found that the most baffling bit from War Games - when the Doctor sees Jamie alone on Culloden, with nearby Redcoats who all want him dead.. and then he chuckles. Sometimes the Doctor's just weird...
The comics say it's because the Doctor can somehow tell Jamie's memory HASN'T been wiped, so Jamie will know how to escape Scotland, where to go, etc. Did you know, piping was banned as a profession following Colludon? Even if Jamie survived the battle, he would be out of work... unless he could read, which is another thing he learned aboard the TARDIS...

I could sort of buy the Sixth/Churchill comparison.. but Troughton and Wellington?! No. No they are not vaguely similar.
For Christ's sake, Troughton's an anarchist!!

Everything else I've read suggests that the 'jolly Wellington' in World Game only exists in Terry's imagination...
Well, a lot of things do.

Apparently written by Justin Richards, that bit. But, hey, the story's cool so it doesn't matter where it all comes from.
Well, at the very least Tezza makes it fit seemlessly.

*Phew* Credibility feels restored..
I point out these are Lisa-style half-finished Cybermen whose emotions and personalities aren't totally wiped, hence acting so oddly.