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.