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...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Day 2650: DOCTOR WHO: Revenge of the Judoon

Thursday:


With the new television series right upon us now, Daddy has been writing reviews of Doctor Who in several other media forms just to get you all warmed up.

We have had RADIO Doctor Who from the Big Fish people and SPIN-OFF Doctor Who in the form of Toychwud. Now it is time for some PAPERBACK Doctor Who, with the return of the Master… of the novelisation, Mr Terrance Digital Versatile Dicks.

Here are Daddy Richard's thoughts on the "Revenge of the Judoon"…

Technically there are "Judoon" in it, and yes technically they do demand "revenge" at one point. But neither point is really what you would call key to this story of David Icke-esque shape-shifting lizards and their plan to take over the world.

Last year, "Made of Steel" was brilliant, a series of classic Terrance Dicks set pieces strung together in a way that was both fun and compelling. This year's follow-up, or cash-in on the popular Judoon from "Smith and Jones" if you prefer, is merely ordinary. Again it's a string of set-pieces but unlike "Made of Steel" they don't seem to flow one into another.

The setting is the Edwardian period… Edwardian England (or even Scotland) seems in vogue – perhaps it's that the Doctor himself is no longer dressed as an Edwardian inventor – and shape-shifters and a threat to the Royal person were central to Steven Cole's recent Zygon-fest "Sting of the Zygons" too.

For that "New Series" feel, though, we get a number of guest historical celebrities – up to and including King Tum Tum himself, but also Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who between this and Christopher Bulis's "Evolution" never fares well from being novelised in Doctor Who, it seems) and a brief cameo for Lord Baden-Powell, of all people, just pre-Scouting for Boys.

Apparently a meeting with the young Churchill was vetoed by BBC Wales, which is a shame as we've had Terry's take on Doctor's two and six meeting the great man and it's likely that no force on Earth could stop Terrance alluding to those previous meetings.

Of course, I was expecting a representative from Torchwood to turn up too, trying to arrest the Doctor. Sadly I was disappointed. Old Queen Vic seemed quite put out by the Doc; did she never thing to mention it to young Eddy? Even if she didn't like him very much, it still seems a bit odd that they never discussed where she was funnelling all that funding.

So there's quite a lot crammed in, and perhaps that's why the action never feels more than perfunctory.

Stealing the Royal Hope hospital and plonking it on the Moon is a terrific visual image. Stealing the whole of Balmoral Castle and plonking it in the desert of the Empty Quarter… would probably also be a great visual image but unfortunately this is a book.

The traditional splitting up of Doctor and Companion – the Time Lord sends Martha to London to trace the origin of an alien gizmo while he himself pursues Balmoral – seems rather oddly blunted when both trails quickly lead back to the kidnapped castle.

And the aliens never really feel like characters. The lead villain, and he's only a villain in the sense that he has a "Master Plan" to be ridiculed by the Doctor, is masquerading as a Professor Challoner, leader of the "Cosmic Peacemakers". But he doesn't do much more than feign gentle benevolence (badly) and then gloat (also badly). His plan to use advanced weapons to destroy the capitals of all the rivals to the British Empire in return for King Edward becoming puppet Emperor of Earth is… well a bit dull, actually. What's his motivation for wanting to conquer an inhabited planet? And if he's got that level of technology available to him, why does he even want to? Does he really expect the British (or whoever he makes Emperor) not to double-cross him? For that matter, how long does he think he can continue to fool the Judoon into being his ground troops? (You see where the "revenge" comes in now, don't you.)

Let's face it, as Power Crazed Alien Space-Lizards, Professor Challoner and his crew wouldn't get to the first round of "The Apprentice". But then, Alex reminds me, neither should most of the Power Crazed Alien Space-Lizards who’ve got to the first round of "The Apprentice".

Nor do over-inflated threats to the "entire universe" add much to the drama, and I'm never terribly convinced by the Doctor saying such-and-such a plot is a threat to history – surely that can only be true if the baddies have time travel and for all their "temporal" weaponry it's never clear that these Prof Challoner's bunch actually have travelled in time. And again, if they can time travel why do they need to be doing daft plots and fooling Judoon? Anything they want would have to be within their reach.

So there's no real challenge here for the Doctor: he effects a solution with – literally – a wave of his sonic, proving to the Judoon that their legal authority here is faked and thus proving the Cosmic Peacemakers' undoing. I mean it's nice that there's an allusion to the Judoon having no authority on Earth itself, but is that all?

Oh, and for all that we get that broadcast warning from someone in the opening of "Last of the Time Lords", surely "Galactic Councils" are much more "The Tomorrow People" than Doctor Who?

On the other hand, the open-ended conclusion – leading into an imagined series of globe-trotting adventures for Martha and the Doctor – is actually very "now", being reminiscent of the end of "The Infinite Quest" in the way it says "the Doctor and Martha's adventures continue…". Rather than a cop-out, or even the page-count running out, it feels quite natural and almost like it's the time travellers returning to their "day job" of saving planets.

Strangely, the description of the Temporal Power source device; the unfortunate fate of Professor Challoner; the fact that there's a "temporal reversal" weapon left lying about in (among other cities) Paris; and the Doctor's remarks about humans not being allowed to get time travel too early all point towards an obvious continuity connection to "City of Death". "Strangely" because the connection is never made, and the ending suggests that all the leftovers will be carefully tidied away. Would have been fun if there had been a hint or reason for the Paris weapon to be overlooked.

So, we have a quick-read which is just that, quick and sadly disposable. You do wonder if Terrance was writing to order on this one: Justin Richards says "Terry, can you write me a story about the 'Revenge of the Judoon'?" "No," says Uncle Tel, "but I can bolt that title onto one I wrote earlier, will that do?"

If you're not very demanding, then yes it'll do. Otherwise, read "Made of Steel" instead.


1 comment:

Knife and Spoon said...

Wearing my 'geekery hat' (or rather, refusing again to take it off) it would be interesting to know whether this is proper historical intervention, insofar as it would reveal that either the Judoon have time travel capabilities (unlikely) or they've been doing the same thing in the same way for at least a century (surprising). Of course, this is straining the definition of 'interesting' quite a long way; all the same, it's disappointing this is really not a Judoon book as I suspect they would make quite amusing antagonists, and there's definitely room for more exploration of their character. Similarly, there's much more mileage in Baden-Powell as Doctor Who guest star, both as figure of fun and of affection (yes, I was a cub scout once).