Monday, September 19, 2016

Doctor, Doctor: Mark Morris' FOREVER AUTUMN

Sweet Jeebus, there's a lot to like about Forever Autumn. A lot! Like, it would be a great seasonal read, a fun horror novel, all on its own, without its being a Doctor Who novel. But, sigh, it's not only a Doctor Who novel, it's a Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who novel.

Forever Autumn -- and see, I even love the title! -- blunders right into Lovecraft territory (albeit modern day Lovecraft territory, a smallish* New England town with a history of weird stuff, a mysterious black tree, etc.) and acts like it owns the place. Kids have the wild hair to dig at the roots of the mysterious black tree, which is so ancient there are Native American legends about how it got there, and dig up a mysterious, creepy, kind of "fleshy" book full of strange names and lettering. It emits a weird green glow, and soon the town is enveloped in creepy green mist. Then tall, thin, tree-like skellingtons are walking around town at night throwing the whammy on unsuspecting citizens. I mean, hell yes!

But then the Tenth Doctor, and his beautiful but boring-as-paint-drying companion, Martha Jones, show up, and start mugging for our attention. And here's the flaw. Novels and Big Finish have rehabilitated Doctors that I've not been too fond of for me, so I had at least some expectation that maybe this, my first Tenth Doctor novel, would maybe do the same. But no.

This book managed to make the Tenth Doctor worse! As portrayed by David Tennant -- who has been marvelous in everything else I've seen -- the Doctor is frenetic, twitchy, disconnected (if the Ninth Doctor is the PTSD Doctor, the Tenth is the ADHD Doctor. Unmedicated) and shouty. He's a distraction rather than a star or a protagonist.

As written, he's all of these things, but turned up to eleven (heh). Author Mark Morris must have been under special orders to emphasize all of these qualities, because in these pages the Doctor can't stand or sit still for even 30 seconds. Maybe because, without an actual actor with biology and whatnot to accommodate, there really are no limits to how spastic he can be? When he doesn't even have to take a breath?

I dunno.

What saved this book for me -- remember, to date I've only ever DNF'd one Doctor Who novel -- was the setting, and the incidental characters. The kids are kind of stock characters, but have personality enough to be enjoyable; the early victim of the novel's main monsters is compassionately portrayed (bonus that one of the kids knows better than to take him lightly as a figure of fun), and the novel's temporary companion, an elderly woman whose family has always had something a bit witchy about them, is a delight. Like I said, this would have been a fine, possibly Bradbury-ish read without the Doctor Who elements.

The climax is fun if kind of telegraphed from a long way off (*cough* Chekov's Evil Clown Costume *cough*), the monster-aliens, a delightfully weird riff on the Pumpkinhead, are cool and genuinely creepy and the book quite a good read. I would have absolutely adored it with pretty much any other Doctor/Companion team; as it is, I merely liked it a lot.

As for my Arbitrary & Mercurial rankings, they don't change a lot. I just get to add a few elements.


Alastair Reynolds
Kate Orman
Mark Gatiss
Terrance Dicks
Gary Bulis
Mark Morris
Jonathan Morris
Justin Richards
Gary Russell
Keith Topping




Romana II
Ben and Polly
*Most of you would probably drop the "ish" but I'm from a town with a population under 1600 souls, and spend a lot of time in even smaller burgs, so this town, which is apparently populated enough to allow a year-round dedicated costume shop to not only survive but flourish, it's small-ish. In a true small town, you make your own costumes, or you buy them at the nearest big box store (well over 100 miles away) or luck into them at a second-hand joint if your town's business community manages to support such a thing.

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