Thursday, 27 October 2011

‘Doctor Who: Paradox Lost’ – George Mann (BBC Books)

When Sue and Hope went away, last weekend, I used the time to get all caught up with season five of the new Doctor Who show. I also used that time to watch ‘Flight of the Living Dead’ but that’s another story I think (‘Snakes on a Plane’ + Zombies = a film that probably didn’t want me to laugh at it as much as I did...) Having completed my little ‘Doctor Who Marathon’ I found myself at a bit of a lose end with no new episodes to watch and a quite reasonable unwillingness to pay full price for the latest box sets (I feel a rant coming on about those so moving swiftly on...) Luckily for me I have a few Doctor Who books on the reading pile, they won’t keep me going for long but I haven’t seen a badly written story in this series, yet, and they’re all original stories as well. You can’t go wrong, can you...?

Well, I wasn’t so sure about that when I picked up ‘Paradox Lost’ and saw that it had been written by none other than George Mann. Long term blog readers will already know that I was disappointed by Mann’s ‘The Affinity Bridge’, but have actually quite enjoyed his writing in the Warhammer 40K shared universe, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting with ‘Paradox Lost’. Luckily for me, it was more of the latter than the former.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a London burglar gets far more than he bargained for when a seemingly empty house is suddenly full of alien creatures all eager to devour his mind. Several hundred years later on and an impossibly old android is dredged from the depths of the Thames river; an android with a message that it will only deliver to a man known as the Doctor...
Now the Doctor and his companions must solve a mystery that spans two different Londons and several hundred years. Anything less than success could very well see the inhabitants of the entire universe devoured by the parasitic Squall...

If you watch Doctor Who fairly regularly then you’ll already know that you’re expected to suspend your disbelief (in pretty much every episode) and just accept that time itself is a funny old thing that will throw up all sorts of stuff in order to keep the show ticking along and doing its job of being entertaining. On the whole (and there have been a couple of moments where even I’ve found myself thinking, ‘oh come on...) this works in a TV format as everything moves so quickly that you find yourself caught up in the thick of it without much time to think. In a book though, that’s a different thing entirely (you’ve got that time to stop and think about what you’ve read) and this is where ‘Paradox Lost’ fell  down a little bit; on the very bit that is meant to be the point of the whole story. Insomuch as a paradox can work, the one that Mann presents us with does work in terms of turning the story right on its head and raising the stakes a lot higher than they already were. What I wasn't so keen on though was that the Doctor himself was eager to brush over all discussion of the paradox (when Rory asked some pretty good questions) and move on with the business at hand. Getting your own characters to cover for you is a little bit of a cop-out, as far as I’m concerned, and just made the central conceit of the plot feel a little more flimsy than it probably was. I guess some things just work better on the small screen than they do in a book...

Despite this though, ‘Paradox Lost’ still ended up being an entertaining tale that I happily found myself lost in for a few hours.

Reading ‘Paradox Lost’ (and ‘The Affinity Bridge’ as well come to think of it) it becomes very clear that George Mann is in love with London, whether it’s the London of a hundred years ago or a fictional London of the far future. Mann really enjoys taking us down London’s streets and alleyways; either showing us the grim detail of its past or speculating on how it might look in the future. Not only does the reader get a clear picture of what’s going on, at any point, but you also can’t help but pick up a little of that love yourself and you end up enjoying the read all the more. I loved it.

What I also loved (if you could call it that) reading about was the parasitic alien race that Mann populates London with. The ‘foggy London town’ of the early twentieth century, in particular, is made for creatures like the Squall to suddenly loom out of and swoop on their prey. There are some really nerve wracking moments as you soon come to know when such an attack might happen.  As more and more Squall arrive they become more intelligent (being a hive race) and this ups the ante in a great way, adding extra urgency to what the Doctor must do.

Mann lends the Doctor enough verve and zest to make him instantly recognisable, as a character, but cleverly avoids making the Doctor’s character a mere caricature of himself. The Doctor can’t resist a joke comes up with some great one-liners but is well aware of the threat posed by the Squall; he gives them a chance to leave but is fully prepared to do what is necessary to ultimately defeat them. This contrast keeps you reading as Mann gives you no idea as to what side of the Doctor you will be dealing with next.

The outcome is never in any doubt (although that’s hardly Mann’s fault, he’s dealing with an iconic figure who is pretty much guaranteed a lot more screen time in the future) but it’s the journey there that counts and it’s a ride you’ll enjoy. I did and I hope to see more Doctor Who books from George Mann in the future.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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