Friday, 22 October 2010

‘Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles’ – Michael Moorcock (BBC Books)

The sad fact of the matter is that, things being as they are right now, I don’t get the chance to either watch or read as much ‘Doctor Who’ as I would like to. I love Doctor Who but life has other plans for how I spend my time these days. Of the whole of the last series, I only saw the episode with the Daleks in the Second World War (not the best advertisement for the series as a whole). Talking Doctor Who books will take things back even further. The last time I picked up a Doctor Who book was in August 2008, the last time I reviewed a Doctor Who book for the blog was longer ago still...

What better time (and way) to get back into the Doctor Who universe than to pick up what is quite possibly the most eagerly awaited Doctor Who book for a long time? Michael Moorcock is an undoubted heavyweight in the realms of speculative fiction and his announcement that he was to write a Doctor Who novel created a lot of buzz (some of which was on this blog, I’m a fan of Moorcock as well). Alongside my excitement were questions about how well writer and setting would fit together; we’re looking at two giants of sci-fi that have been around for decades and are very much used to doing things their own way. Could the two work together or would one have to make way for the other? As it turned out, someone was about to take centre stage...

Reality is collapsing and the fate of far more than just our universe is at stake. Salvation lies in the system of Miggea where the grand finals of the competition to win the fabled Arrow of Law are about to be played out; if the Doctor is going to save the universe he needs that arrow and will play any game to get his hands on it. There are dangers to overcome though before the Doctor and Amy can get anywhere near Miggea. Captain Cornelius and his pirates prowl the space lanes looking for prey and the Antimatter men are also on the prowl for reasons of their own. It seems that everyone has their eye on the Arrow but if this is the case, why is everyone after Lady Banning-Cannon’s hat? And will Hari Agincourt ever gain the hand of his beloved? The whole of creation coming to a premature end is bad enough but it’s only one of the problems that the Doctor must solve...

When I picked up ‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ I knew that this fusion of author and subject matter wasn’t going to be a smooth ride and that one would have to make way for the other. The good news for me was that this lack of balance didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all, I loved it. It might not work for other fans of Doctor Who though.

‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ is a fine example of an author playing to his own strengths rather than those of the setting. I’m not saying that Moorcock hasn’t written a Doctor Who novel at all; not only are the Doctor and Amy in the book but Moorcock addresses their characters and relationship very well. Their characters are such that they will be recognised instantly and their interactions reflect those shown on the small screen (those that I have seen). The structure of the plot will be familiar as well with a high stakes problem that needs solving and lots of actions scenes that progress things to a well deserved end. I had a great time with the book on those terms and couldn’t stop reading until I was done. Scenes of high adventure coupled with searching moments of introspection on the part of the Doctor made for some compelling reading.

Where the issue, for some, might arise is in the fact that Moorcock lifts the Doctor Who mythos out of its familiar surroundings and places it in the universe of his own devising. Daleks and Judoon do feature (even if it’s just a mention on the page) but this is very much Moorcock’s Multiverse where the latest incarnation of Jerry Cornelius battles with Captain Quelch and answers to pressing questions can be found in the mysterious Second Ether.

At the same time as he stays true to the basic plot format of a Doctor Who story, Moorcock also brings his own influences to the table and gives his readers something that they wouldn’t expect to come across in a Doctor Who story. Moorcock isn’t afraid to style his stories along the mannerisms of others and this time round it’s the turn of P.G. Wodehouse to come to the fore. The result is an enjoyable comedy of manners along the lines of Bertie Wooster and co; something that sometimes doesn’t quite gel with the science fiction elements of the plot but is nevertheless fun to follow.

Again, I had a great time with the book on these terms. As a fairly well established fan, it’s always good to travel back into the myriad ways of the Multiverse and ponder its conundrums (some of the descriptive pieces around this blew my mind) while spotting the familiar characters and references that Moorcock throws up. Moorcock ties events here into his own wider mythos so fans of that setting will get a lot out of this tale, I did.

As much as I enjoyed the book though, I couldn’t help but wonder if Doctor Who fans (who aren’t Moorcock fans) would enjoy it as much as I did. I was lucky enough to be able to approach the story from two positive perspectives but others might not be able to do that. ‘The Coming of the Terraphiles’ is very much a ‘Michael Moorcock Doctor Who book’ as oppose to a ‘Doctor Who book written by Michael Moorcock’, if you know what I mean.

I guess the bottom line is that if you’re thinking of buying this book for your nine year old son (who has only ever seen the new Doctor Who on TV) then you might want to reconsider. If you’re a fan of either setting and you’re after a slice of exceedingly well written science fiction then this is very definitely the book for you. I’ll leave it to you to decide which category you fall into.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

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