Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Doctor, Doctor: Christopher Bulis' CITY AT WORLD'S END

I'm not a huge fan of the First Doctor, on television or in prose, so my enthusiasm was on the low side as I started City At World's End, though the premise looked good: the TARDIS crew land on a planet that is doomed to utter destruction when its moon, recently knocked out of its proper orbit by a passing asteroid, crashes right into it. It looks superficially like the world's inhabitants are prepared. Superficially.

All is not as it seems, of course, as if ever the case in a Doctor Who story. The city, Arkhaven (nudge nudge nudge NUDGE NUDGE NUDGE NUDGE), has indeed built a giant spacecraft that can take a huge number of people to safety, and there seems to be an orderly evacuation plan, BUT, as the Doctor quickly susses out from his unfortunate position as an internee in a refugee camp, there's an awful lot about this situation that doesn't make sense. At all.

Wait, refugee camp? Yes. Wait, you didn't think they were going to evacuate the entire planet, did you? Save everybody? Give everyone an equal chance? Ha ha ha ha ha ha, then why would the Doctor be there?

For this doomed planet is hopelessly class-ridden, in so many ways. There's a hereditary aristocracy. There is a seriously powerful religious institution. There have been terrible wars that have driven the population to drastic measures that made for refugees even before the meteor showers began to randomly devastate huge swathes of the planet. And there are nasty secrets. All over the place.

So this is a perfect early Doctor Who-era story. Even the rocket as described just screams 1960s sci-fi. The social criticism, too, is of its era: no concerns about racism, sexism or ableism, just about how the Elites and the Church are so myopically concerned about preserving their privilege that they're hampering the technocrats' efforts to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the TARDIS crew. Of course they get split up early, so that Susan can get borderline fridged (but only for a little while) and Barbara can get put through hell. This launches both of them into pretty admirable Self-Rescuing Princess routines (though Barbara's is unquestionably the harder road) while the Doctor harumphingly Consults with the rocket builders and Discovers Secrets and Ian, well, to Ian's credit, at least this time around (unlike in the first First Doctor novel I read, Byzantium!) he spends most of his time trying to rescue one of the women (whom this novel persists in referring to as girls, I guess because history, or something?).

Like a lot of Doctor Who stories of any era, this one suffers a bit from just having too many adversaries/complications stirred into its plot. A setting of inherent jeopardy and difficulty, which is already hiding layers and layers of secrets, is also stalked by a weird monster called The Creeper, AND there is a weird but ultimately satisfying sub-plot around Susan's fridging, which sub-plot winds up being what propelled me through some of this novel's duller bits in the middle. Kudos to author Christopher Bulis for pulling that off! This lands him just above the middle in the Arbitrary & Mercurial authors list:


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

As for the Doctors, no change. The First Doctor is going to have to show me something more before he budges ahead of the Fifth. Or the Fifth is going to have to really tick me off. Time will tell (hee hee).



And the answer I know you've all been waiting for, did Ian redeem himself out of last place? And the answer is, yes, to a degree. It's good that he actually went looking for Barbara (and later, Susan), but before he had that to do he was useless and really kind of a worry-wart spoil-sport, but that's not enough to leave him below Perpigilliam. In fact, he nudges ahead of Rose, Adric and Vicki! Woo! As for Susan, she didn't get to show me a whole lot, but what she did was pretty excellent, so she debuts on the list right after to Barbara, whom I picture emerging from the storm sewers and rubble with her fantastic 60s helmet hair perfectly unmussed and just the mandatory artful smudge of dirt marring her fantastic 60s make-up, because Barbara.


Romana II
Ben and Polly

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