Monday, October 24, 2016

Doctor, Doctor: James Goss' THE BLOOD CELL

And so now my first cycle through the extant Doctors as of this writing is complete with this, The Blood Cell, a novel featuring the Twelfth Doctor (hooray!) and Clara (eh). Do please pardon me while I have some feelings.


The Blood Cell, part of an early spate of novels featuring this duo -- officially published in September 2014, it appears to have hit NetGalley before most of us had even seen a full episode with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. And yet author James Goss had figured out exactly what the Twelfth Doctor was going to be like, and did so long before the TV writers seem to have done! And this is not to say that Goss just binged on episodes of In the Loop and projected Malcolm Effing Tucker onto the character of the Doctor; he got a lot more right, too, as I'll discuss in a moment.

Nor is this the only thing to admire about The Blood Cell, which also features two other things that I just love when they are done well: a locked room mystery, and an unreliable narrator. I mean, who's been peeking at my Christmas list, right?

The Blood Cell opens in an extremely high security prison, wherein a prison official is interrogating the newest inmate. There is some nice ambiguity in the first page or so as to which of them might be the Doctor, and I'm going to try really hard not to spoil that for you, but...

One of the things that really makes the Twelfth Doctor shine is his perfect self-assurance, which is so perfect that the man genuinely has nothing left to prove. He so absolutely does not care what anyone else thinks of him that he is perfectly free to disappear into the roles he assumes, with utter conviction, even if they are the lowliest of figures (yes, I'm thinking of "The Caretaker" here). He doesn't mind being completely misunderstood, even reviled, and that aspect of his character, which I tend to think is unique to this iteration of the Doctor (but am willing to discuss*) really shines in this novel. Everybody but Clara (and this is a fairly Clara-lite story, though the bits that do have her are way less annoying than I'd ever have suspected they would be) is working under the misapprehension that the Doctor is a truly reprehensible figure, with a past not so much checkered as nearly completely black. And he just rolls with it.

Meanwhile, of course, mysterious stuff is happening. Dead and broken bodies start turning up while the prison -- which is on an asteroid at the edge of a star system -- and its cobbled-together-by-the-lowest-bidders operating systems start going on the fritz in ways big and small. What's behind it? Who's hiding secrets? Who's to blame for all the chaos? Is it the same person or persons to blame for the bodies?

Some of the answers are telegraphed from the very beginning, but there are still some nifty surprises, and the final act is genuinely horrifying, making The Blood Cell yet another great page-turner of a Doctor Who novel.

And so the Aribtrary & Mercurials do shift a bit, with, for instance, Clara debuting on the companion list at a much higher spot than she might have otherwise. When she's good, she's very very good, and she's at her best -- challenging, a bit mysterious, no-nonsense, executing her tasks perfectly -- here.


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




Romana II
Ben and Polly

Next, I'm reading one of the "extras" -- in this case, the War Doctor novel I mentioned last time. Will he hold on to his place just above the universally beloved Fourth Doctor in my A&M rankings? Tune in soon....

*But really, can you see the First Doctor, say, cleaning up vomit with that pink sawdust stuff? The Tenth? The Seventh? Any of them? No.

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