Music Sounds Better With Evil Corporations
Last night I walked past two major record stores in Boston. As I crossed in front of the Virgin Megastore, they were playing “Hombre” by M.I.A. When I went into Newbury Comics, they were playing Bjork’s singles in one half of the store and some anonymous-sounding, boring guitar band in the other half. At that moment, I desperately wished that Virgin sold comic books because it was blatantly obvious that Newbury Comics had jumped the shark and put itself in a little musical cul-de-sac that refused to acknowledge music after 1997 and I didn’t really want to be in that place; I wanted to run through 2005 with M.I.A. on one arm and Stush on the other.
I found it to be a relatively jarring moment because I’ve been retreating without complaint into musical nostalgia over the past couple of years; I’ve felt little-to-no desire to investigate musical scenes any deeper than what gets presented on MTV and the local ClearChannel radio stations (outside of keeping an eye out for musical endeavors pursued by people I’ve met online), plus I’ve felt almost no desire to buy/download anything that I either haven’t heard before or wasn’t done by an established favorite. Newbury Comics, which (to me) used to be the Boston bastion of forward-thinking tastemaking, seems to have retreated into this shell as well, pandering to the most conservative musical instincts in my body, but as I walked past Virgin and heard those braying, discordant “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY”s ringing out over the street, I felt, I don’t know, alive, like I was about to be transported naked onto a dancefloor with 8 million clones of my wife begging me to dance them into orgasm. Entering Newbury Comics felt like turning my back on a shiny, candy-coated version of TEH FUTUR. Almost every fiber of my being wanted to run into the street, dash over to Virgin and spend my entire paycheck on new imports, like I did in my early 20s. It was a crystallized moment of pure aural-consumer desire the likes of which I hadn’t felt since 2000. Instead, I wandered to the counter with my X-Men book and a copy of Actually and wistfully thought back on the days when I wasn’t old.
I guess it isn’t a big surprise that the big conglomerate would be better at pushing “CONSUME!” buttons than the “plucky-local-kid” conglomerate that still thinks chrome-plated Dr. Martens are the shit, but it’s been YEARS since I’ve felt that overwhelming need to buy music. Even though I’ll probably stay in my hermetic navel-gazing bubble for the time being, it’s nice to know there’s a manic monster in my heart that would like to make a gigantic grime-and-reggaeton jock strap and give me the world’s funkiest wedgie with it.
Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible – Marc Platt (7/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: The Process)
Cat’s Cradle: Warhead – Andrew Cartmel (7/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: Butler Institute, Mathew O’Hara)
Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark – Andrew Hunt (2/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: Some random Welsh gits)
The first four New Adventurers gave Whovians the epic Timewyrm, chasing all around the galaxy and even into the Doctor’s mind. The next three books all bear the “Cat’s Cradle” moniker and was poised to be another multi-book saga.
So what went wrong?
The three books have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Time’s Crucible is a base-under-siege pastiche mixed in with some startling revelations about ancient Gallifrey. Warhead is a near-future ecoterror story. Witch Mark is a parallel universe exercise in fairyland fuckwittery. The linking device is a silver cat that represents the TARDIS but only actually impacts the plot of Time’s Crucible. Events in Time’s Crucible have a negligible impact on the setup of Witch Mark, but Warhead could have occurred at anytime without causing any real continuity hiccups. As an overarching epic, these three books fail completely.
So why publish them with Cat’s Cradle in the titles? I can understand not wanting to do another “Doctor and Ace hunt down a threat” multipart story; variety is the spice of life, after all. However, there isn’t even a thematic link or a “the events of one story lead into another” setup going on; I have no idea what Peter Darvill-Evans was thinking when he tried to shoehorn these books together (beyond “HAHA STUPID FANBOYS I TAKE YOUR CASH AND FLEE LIKE WIND”).
Individually, two of the books work very well. Time’s Crucible sets a deeply claustrophobic mood by stranding Ace in a nightmarish, time-ravaged landscape with no Doctor, no TARDIS, a bunch of amnesiac explorers from Gallifrey’s history called Phazels and a gigantic, disgusting datavore that calls itself The Process. Platt does an excellent job of revealing twist after twist, springing revelations about where the action is taking place, why The Process is making the Phazels look for the Future, and where the Process’s creepy humanoid guard with the insect heads actually came from, all while meshing in the Ancient Gallifrey plot that explains the emergence of rationalism and time travel and gives some startling details about pre-Time Lord life. Warhead goes for a different type of harrowing, evoking an Earth not too far removed from our reality but full of neat little future ideas, like the holographic answering machine. Cartmel’s Doctor is firmly in chessmaster mode, maneuvering character after character in a grand scheme to stop the schemes of a severely disturbed businessman and his plan to cheat death by forcibly downloading humanity into a supercomputer. The most interesting part of the story revolves around Justine, a neo-Luddite teen obsessed with nature and witchcraft, and Vincent, the Whoniverse’s most fascinating psychokinetic who channels emotions into fearsome mental powers.
Then there’s good old Witch Mark. Poor, sad, horrifyingly bad Witch Mark. The book is packed with stereotype after stereotype, what with the stranger-hating Welsh farmers, the two American backpackers that seem to have actually come from 50s London, the Peter-Davison-in-“All Creatures Great And Small”-esque vet, the helpful old couple in the inn, the surly humans in the fairy realm, the wise, gentle unicorns, the staid trolls, etc etc etc. The vestiges of a great plot lurk in this mess (the fairy realm is collapsing and the inhabitants there, along with the Welshmen, are attempting to infiltrate Earth, creating conflict both on Earth between the UK and the transplants and between the fairyland humans and the fairy creatures, all exacerbated by witches using the situation for their own gain) but the book seem to be actively conspiring to hide this from you. Glaring plot holes fly all over the place, including one particular howler that isn’t resolved for another 49 books. This was the last book I needed to complete my New Adventures collection; I still have conflicting emotions about having spent money for this nonsense.
In the end, we have two very good books and one shockingly bad book, all more pessimistic in tone and setting than the previous four novels. Apparently, adults don’t like fun very much (and it only gets grimmer from here).
Timewyrm: Revelation – Paul Cornell (8/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: The Timewyrm, Chad Boyle, Rupert Hemmings)
(Okay, I was slacking for a little bit in my writing; you all have my heartfelt apologies. The hiatus has given me a chance to get ahead in my reading, though. Expect a few more of these next week.)
Paul Cornell established himself early on as one of the darlings of the New Adventures by writing an immensely entertaining novel that was really the first one to hint at the promise stated by editor Peter Darvill-Evans in his forward for Timewyrm: Genesys. Timewyrm: Revelation veers in location from the English countryside to the moon to surreal landscapes directly out of a Timelord’s fever dream. Cornell uses continuity as bludgeon, battering Ace left and right through half-remembered scenarios populated with previous incarnations of the Doctor. It’s a low-budget director’s worst nightmare; you really can’t imagine this story on the small screen.
Cornell is also the first novelist of the line to trade on the darker side of the seventh Doctor. The previous three books put more emphasis on the season 24 “jolly bumbler” version of the Seventh Doctor; the scheming otherworldly manipulator who maneuvers his enemies into defeating themselves that emerged in seasons 25 and 26 was referenced (most explicitly by Uncle Terry in the Doctor’s interaction with the Hitlerwyrm) but not really showcased. Not so in this story; throughout the book, Ace is bounced from temporal gambit to preset situation by both the Doctor and the Timewyrm. All of the supporting players are there for a purpose, chosen by either the Timewyrm or the Doctor for maximum tactical advantage.
Cornell sets up the symmetries between the two manipulators beautifully. The Timewyrm is the consummate user; she uses Ace’s childhood fears in the form of tormenting bully Chad Boyle and her adolescent fears in the form of recent enemy Rupert Hemmings, the suave British Nazi from Timewrym: Exodus. She takes one of the Doctor’s home bases on Earth, a sleepy village called Cheldon Boniface, and converts it into an energy source for her ascendancy into godhood. She takes everything within sight and twists it, drains it and discards it. The Doctor, by contrast, leaves notes and clues to guide his helpers along. He enlists the aid of a latent psychic and a sentient church* but allows them to figure out what he needs them to do and, even more critically, allows them to decide whether they will do it or not. The Doctor is not above coercion but you always have an out with him. This crucial difference underscores their conflict nicely and, when the Doctor does finally triumph, he does so in such a Whoish way that the long-standing fan has to fight the urge to jump up and applaud.
Cornell gives fans of the manipulative Doctor a special treat in the form of a coda showing the Doctor and Ace setting up the tricks and tips that helped them carry the day. All of this was hand-waved in the television series; explicitly showing it here does more to redeem some of the gaping plots in seasons 25 and 26 than years of rec.arts.drwho fan theories.
Four books in and the Virgin line has produced its first stone cold classic. Where could the line go from here?
* Cornell’s major weakness is an unfortunate tendency towards teeth-grindingly twee bullshit. We will see more of this in later books.
Timewyrm: – Apocalypse – Nigel Robinson (3/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: The Timewyrm, The Panjistri)
The third installment of the Timewyrm series was written by another Target novelization alum whose previous efforts focused on translating 1st and 2nd Doctor stories from the screen to the page. I did not know this when I first read this book, otherwise I would not have been surprised by the immature prose manfully struggling to tell a story that is a thinly-veiled reworking of an obscure 2nd Doctor story (“The Krotons”, featuring Jamie and Zoe).
The saving grace of this book is that the plot is entertaining; The Doctor and Ace track the Timewyrm to the edge of the universe, discovering an idyllic paradise populated by the staggeringly gorgeous Kirithons and their aloof masters, the benevolent and mysterious Panjistri. The Panjistri nurture and protect the Kirithons, encouraging those who rise to the tops of their chosen professions/vocations to join the Brotherhood of Kandasi (at which point their essences are melted into a gigantic God machine and their physical remains are pureed into the staple of the Kirithon diet and facilitates the removal of the assimilated individuals from the collective memories of the Kirithon colony; oh, also anyone who finds out what’s really going on gets turned into a hideous mutant and banished into the poisoned lands). Naturally, things are beginning to fall apart just as The Doctor and Ace arise and it falls to them to thwart the Panjistris’ plot… BUT THERE’S A CATCH!
I have to stop recapping for a moment because the story moves from “good” entertaining to “holy shit, are we really supposed to buy this nonsense” entertaining.
I mean, for fuck’s sake!
Okay, I’m ready.
Robinson wants us to believe that Ace is the embodiment of rage and anger and dumping her into the God Machine will keep the universe from collapsing back upon itself (yes, this is a sequel to “Logopolis”!). At this point the book would have to turn into a sex kitten covered with money and hard candy to have any chance of redeeming itself in my eyes. Characters get offed left and right as the book builds to the world’s most blatantly-obvious self-sacrifice and I’m just in hysterics. Blah blah blah, the Timewyrm is revealed (and it’s not at all shocking) and the book ends with Ace and the Doctor chasing after her again.
There are 229 original Who novels; based on this book, it’s a miracle that 226 of them ever saw publication.
Timewyrm: Genesys – John Peel (7/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLIAN: The Timewyrm n’e Ishtar n’e Qataka)
Timewyrm: Exodus – Terrance Dicks (7/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLIAN: The Timewyrm, Hitler)
Virgin Books decided to launch their line of Doctor Who fiction with a maxi-story that spans the first four novels. In the forward for Timewyrm: Genesys, series editor Peter Darvill-Evans made many promises of “complex, challenging plots with serious themes” that “take full advantage of the scope offered by the medium of the novel”; apparently we the super-fanatical Whovians were not supposed to notice that the first two authors in this all-new shebang were the nigh-definitive Dalek historian (Peel) and the former series editor/king of the Target novelizations (Dicks).
The end result is that while the scope of the stories is greatly increased, the first two books themselves are comfortable, lightweight affairs that you can easily blow through in a weekend. Peel gives us a bawdy romp through Mesopotamia, complete with sword-wielding kings, bare-chested sex priestesses and a cybernetic alien that turns into the titular threat. Dicks’ novel is a crash-course in Nazi history spun through the Doctor Who lens, touching on key events in the rise and fall of the Third Reich with The Doctor and Ace woven into the mix. Both borrow heavily from series continuity, referencing moments from every era of Doctor Who (I assume consciously, as both novels base their stories in history), often to the point where it’s patently obvious that these books are written by men obsessed with a kid’s show for people obsessed with a kid’s show.
Two books in, the New Adventures look a lot like the old adventures with added boobies and beatings. The beginning of the line fails in terms of being a bold, exciting new direction for the Doctor Who franchise, but succeeds in that both books are very enjoyable to read. Peel hasn’t written another Who story with as many laugh-out-loud moments as he has in Genesys, between the sheer bull-headedness of his Gilgamesh and the extreme culture clash between Ace and 2700 BC, while Dicks came out of the gate with what is arguably the best original novel he wrote for the series, admirably walking a fine tightrope of merging the absurdity of the series’ premise with the deadly serious, horrific circumstances of Hitler’s reign mixed in with some chilling “what if?” scenarios that echo the greatest moments in the televised series. I can’t fault either of these books for not being the wildly-exciting departures from the norm described by Darvill-Evans because, well, they’re so damned fun.
(Enjoy it while you can; things take a very sharp turn into “not-fun” territory after the Timewyrm series wraps up.)
OOOH WEEE OOOOOOH…
In 1991, Virgin Publishing launched a line of original Doctor Who fiction. Continuing where “Survival” left off, the book range followed the further adventures of the seventh Doctor and Ace, building onto the Doctor Who universe in whatever ways the authors could imagine and telling stories of a breadth and scope impossible for the television show. The line was so successful that Virgin launched a companion line of “Missing Adventure” stories in 1994 featuring Doctors 1 through 6 and their various companions. Fans starved for new Who stories that were tackling more adult themes and modern storytelling techniques made the line such a success that, after the 1996 television movie, the BBC bought back the novel rights and started their own line of new Who fiction starring the eighth Doctor and a new group of companions. To this day, BBC Books publishes a new Who novel every month, coming up with new and entertaining ways of putting the universe and the Doctor through the wringer.
The novels have done a lot to not only add depth and richness to the Whoniverse, but also to cement the Doctor’s place as one of the great science-fiction heroes of modern storytelling. To date, between the Virgin line and the BBC line there are have been 229 novels of original, canonical Who fiction published in the past 13 years.
I own 220 of them. I intend to review all of them, in chronological order, on this blog.
THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
THE PRODIGY – “Girls”
You know how you’ll sometimes be listening to some nu-electro track and the thought will cross your mind that this would be the GREATEST THING EVAH if only it had a smidgeon of bass in it? Apparently Liam Howlett’s been thinking the same thing; this bouncy little number is the strongest thing he’s put out since “No Good (Start The Dance)” and shamelessly prances along the line between pandering nostalgia fluff and fuck-you-in-the-eye bassbin bludgeon. The merry melodies and swirling synths paired over the deafening drums make me awfully abuse alliteration.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a whole lot of unironic cabbage-patching to do.
JANET JACKSON – “All Nite (Don’t Stop)”
It’s official; Janet Jackson is crazy.
This has nothing to do with her alleged exercise addiction, the plastic surgeies she’s had to make herself look like the world’s sexiest anthropomorphic cat, or even the Superbowl titflash-o-rama. This is all centered around her new single, a deeply sexy affair that weaves a gigantic bassline through a stutter-beat straight from the heavens, topped off with the most gorgeous whisper-voiced lyrics this side of the “let me throw my panties at you and call you Daddy” divide. The evidence of Janet’s (or perhaps her record label’s) advancing dementia is the fact that this was not the lead single off of Damita Jo.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This review is in no way influenced by the fact that the author first heard the song via the absurdly sexy video. Oh no.)
ORBITAL – “You Lot”
Simplicity is oftentimes a great thing. Layered synth lines over a straightforward beat carries the listener into an extended sample of a speech about taking over the world via science (I have no idea where this comes from, by the way, so please tell me because it sounds like it’s from Blake’s 7 or something similar) before saying, “Oh yeah, right before I depressed the shit out of you, you were dancing; let’s go back to that.”
I don’t think I’ve encountered an Orbital track that managed to work excess within the bounds of gentility before; I guess age does funny things to everyone.
BLACK EYED PEAS – “Hey Mama”
Dammit, it’s not like I didn’t have iPod envy as it is. The new ad campaign features silhouettes wearing iPods dancing to this song against a gigantic block of color. The ad is visually arresting, but the SONG! The energy alone is fantastic, propelling BEP firmly toward the forefront of the backpacker partyjam clique that they’ve inhabited since their major label debut. There isn’t anything revolutionary here (beyond of course the addition of a female singer to their ranks, making me wonder if they were big fans of the first season of P. Diddy’s Making The Band and showing that the distance between the “conscious backpacker” and the “chart-topping playa” is about as far as the distance between Madonna and Britney at the last VMAs), but the simple fact of the matter is you don’t have to be revolutionary to get people amped.