We’ve become accustomed in the new age for companions, the long terms ones at least, to be given an extensive cooling off period of five or six episodes which establishes the dynamic between them and the Doctor and crucially in which we see each of their first adventures together in sequence, one after the other, no hint of a gap. I know some of you are already wanting to cite Boomtown as an example of this not happening with Captain Jack already very much part of the crew and having already had unseen adventures, but notice I said long term companions in the opening sentence which hopeful drags me off the hook. Few.
All of which is a preamble to noticing how surprising it is to see Fritz being handled in such an old school manner. This is late nineties you see and just as in The Taint he didn’t seem all that bothered by the internal status of Tardis, in Demontage he’s already in his element and not all that surprised to be on a space station, in the future, ordering drinks and being mistaken for a hitman. True, both Rose and Martha took their initial time jumps in their stride, but it’s been thoroughly established that the Doctor chose them because they were special and looking for adventure. Fitz is more in the Dodo mode of passenger, there because, after his mum died and he lost his job, he’s nowhere else to go. And he and the Doctor are already friendly enough to be making bets.
The German version of the Wikipedia translates Demontage as Disassembly and says (via a translator) that it “describes (contrary to the assembly) the dismantling of something, in particular from building groups, machines or also whole production plants. Disassembly technology is thus the reversal of the mounting technique with the goal of the dismantling of a complex system into subsystems such as building groups or individual construction units. Special disassembly techniques are e.g. needed if atomictechnical plants must be dismantled.” Although all that refers to the story thematically for reasons too spoilery to mention, Richards also constructs that story in the same way, at first building in a range of plots and characters all of which could become the most important before the story is out.
The author gently mixes together Babylon 5 with James Bond cool and a dollop of Grand Hotel, lightly washing with a splash of Stephen King and The Culture Show.
The adventure begins in progress, with the time travelers enjoying as lay-over on Vega Station, a floating hotel casino at the border between two warring races, the Battrulians and Canvine which is about to be visited by the former’s president apparently to see an exhibition of paintings by one of the sectors best regarded artists. The author gently mixes together Babylon 5 with James Bond cool and a dollop of Grand Hotel, lightly washing with a splash of Stephen King and The Culture Show (there's some discussion of the value of art). It’s a surprisingly colourful image, a kind of anti-base under siege tale in which it’s up to the Doctor to discover where each of the characters fits on the canvas, the menace only really becoming apparent as he fills in each of the number spaces, literally dismantling plot elements as he goes until the most important is left behind to be dealt with. We're peeling the layers off the onion here, obviously.
We're peeling the layers off the onion here, obviously.
As I’ve hinted this is something of a romp as everyone gets into a scrape, escapes, then find themselves in even deeper trouble. If the middle of the book drags slightly with the kind of run around you’d find in episodes three and four of a traditional six parter, that’s probably more to do with the form than anything array in the writing. As the story continues, momentum builds, some elements become darker, the generally comedic atmosphere drifts into tragedy and there’s a really surprising moment (at least this early into the character’s story) in which Fitz cries. If anything it’s that will to touch and tickle which is most similar to the new series but there are others, particularly within the handling of characters.
It’s a relatively small cast but they’re all very well drawn with stand outs being Bigdog Caruso, the Canvine (who looking like humanoid wolves) with the heart of Ben Grimm, the art forgers Raparre and Forster (who would probably be played by David Walliams and Matt Lucas in the new series), the surprising Stabilio and the hostess/waitress/whatever Vermillion a fiery red head, who I imagined looked exactly like Kelly Reilly (hence the picture). It’s her reason for not being in the whole book which is similar to the new series, the creation of a memorable, likable character, whom a companion befriends only for her to … become the catalyst for the reveal of the big concept at the heart of the story ... and it’s great idea, even if it seems strangely familiar, it’s handled much better here than there.
It’s a wonderfully filmic approach as each sentence and paragraph would herald a new shot or scene on television.
I remember liking Option Lock, the last Eighth Doctor novel from Richards because even though the narrative didn’t completely hold together, there were some lovely Doctorish moments in between. There are a couple of doozys here, often related to card playing (turns out he’s bit of a shark in his old age) but also due to his longevity and propensity to change appearance in a scene which throws away the question of regeneration in a way that the new series could never get away with. It’s decent book for Sam too, even if she’s given a dose of body shock trouble again. But the point is that little time is given over this time to her internal moping which has been a feature of too many of these models, allowing her instead to be fearless and adventuress for a change.
Actually, Richards doesn’t give much of an internal dialogue to anyone preferring instead to make his action completely lucid. Unlike some authors who all too often simply list the characters in each scene and drop in the words as through they’re writing theatre or an audio play, Justin very carefully notes the posture of everyone in the scene and particularly where they’re putting their hands, actually. The backdrop too is realistically drawn, even the fictional view from the view scree which also hints at one of the subterfuges at the heart of the situation. It’s a wonderfully filmic approach as each sentence and paragraph would herald a new shot or scene on television. I’ve seen this done badly elsewhere but here the balance is just right and I defy anyone at the close of the final scene not to imagine Fitz saying it to the camera with the famous end of episode scream and titles being heralded afterwards.
It’s almost as though there’s been a definite decision to let Larry do his thing whilst everyone else does theirs.
About my only criticism of the book is something I noted in the review of Option Lock - that none of the revelations from Lawrence Miles’ Alien Bodies have yet been addressed and with the exception of a potential dream in The Taint even mentioned. It’s almost as though there’s been a definite decision to let Larry do his thing whilst everyone else does theirs. Or it’s The X-Files model of the main mythology stories generally running unheralded between the stand alones. Perhaps it’s a publishing decision so that the casual reader won’t become too confused as the pages become thick with continuity but given that these books were being published a year and a half after the tv movie how likely is it that anyone other than fans were picking them up anyway? Oh well, I’ve four more books to the next Miles adventure, the two book Interference so I’ll just have to be patient -- isn’t it funny how tastes have changed that stand alone adventures were once the norm for the franchise but now we expect a grander narrative?
Next: It’s a Revolution, Man.