Sunday, January 3, 2016

Doctor, Doctor: Jonathan Morris' DOCTOR WHO: FESTIVAL OF DEATH

First and foremost, let us contemplate the glorious awesomeness of the title: Festival of Death. Is that not the pulpiest pulp that ever pulped a pulp? Even before we throw in the goofiest of Doctors, Number Four, and his robot dog, K-9, and his best straight-man-cum-Time-Lady, Romana?

Then the reader quickly realizes that author Jonathan Morris was rather more ambitious about this project than these pulp promises portend (heh), because this is a proper time travel story of the kind that modern fans like to refer to as "timey-wimey"; even as the TARDIS crew arrives at the setting for this story (about which more anon) they come upon the aftermath of a terrible disaster -- and crowds of people clamoring to express their gratitude to the Doctor, Romana and K9 for saving them.

But so, look at the cover art, here. Look at the expression on Tom Baker's face. Isn't that exactly how a person reacts when he's congratulated for deeds of derring do he hasn't performed yet? Um, whut. And yes, you could say that he should maybe be used to this, being a time traveling hero and all, but generally he and his friends are locked into the progress of a linear narrative as soon as the TARDIS lands because they thus become "part of a chain of events," so I say he is legit stunned, here.

Festival of Death really, really wants to be the perfect Fourth Doctor novel, and really could have been except for how hard its author tried to make it so. There is so much plot crammed into this novel that there's really not room for anything else, but Jonathan Morris had to cram in as much as he could of what he understands the Fourth Doctor to be all about -- namely the oeuvre of one Douglas Adams -- so that the reader is constantly being distracted by all the rib-digging cleverness of recycled Adamsiana (there is even a character named Hoopy, for Bob's sake), to the detriment of her being able to enjoy the plot. This is a terrible shame because it's quite a good and clever plot, one that sends the TARDIS crew back into their own time stream many times over, so that they are having constantly to avoid meeting themselves and destroying the Web of Time. Which is awesome.

Equally awesome is the setting: a hundred-plus spaceship pile-up crash, trapped in a hyperspace bypass (sigh) and turned into a tourist attraction called G-Lock (short for "gridlock"). Which tourist attraction has become a bit old hat and is seeing a decline in visitors until a mad scientist shows up to put his demented life's work in motion to revitalize the G-Lock's reputation and economy. Which demented life's work allows tourists to lie down in a coffin and have, not merely a near-death experience, but an actual death experience, and then come back forever awed and changed by it.

So this should be a great Doctor Who novel, but it winds up merely being a good one. My assessment of this one might change on subsequent re-readings, which this intricate and crazy plot kind of cries out for, but that might not ever happen because to re-experience the plot I'll have to re-experience all the eye-rolling, and who wants to do that when so much other fun fiction yet beckons?

And yes, some of it by Jonathan Morris, who is going to be impossible to avoid because he's written a great deal of Doctor Who for every medium but television, including quite a lot of Big Finish audio plays, some of which I have already heard and enjoyed so... Hmm. But for now, my Arbitrary and Mercurial Author Ranking after Festival of Death is:

Alastair Reynolds
Mark Gatiss
Terrance Dicks
Jonathan Morris
Justin Richards
Keith Topping

But my A&MDR is unchanged:

As for companions, I'd forgotten just how much I like Romana II. She's right there after Evelyn with Donna and Jo.

Now, onward to a Fifth Doctor novel, which I've already chosen, and about which I am super excited. Stay tuned!

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