No! no! no! no! NO! I’ve just finished reading Paul Leonard’s Revolution Man and I don’t think I’ve been this disgruntled about something from the Whoniverse since the last episode of Torchwood (with New Earth running a close second). For the first time I’ve probably got some understanding of how some fans felt at the end of the final story of the new series of Doctor Who. I thought SOD U LOTT was an enjoyable romp, not perfect by any means, but with enough good things going on to override the clanking climax with it’s messianic Doctor. But for reasons that I’ll get into later (I’m so annoyed I’ll be spoiling the ending) this commits an even greater crime that dips the thing in shit and no matter how positive I could be about the rest of the book I can’t but want to scream.
So what are the potential positives? Well for a start, it’s short. At 248 pages using a relatively big version of the usual font, it would fit snugly into the new format for the novels (where it not for the rock and roll, sex, drugs and hallucinogenic trips) which makes a change from the relatively long reads I’ve been wading through lately. And the story is fairly original as Earth finds itself in the grip of time anomalies caused by a mysterious revolutionary figure tripping out on the aforementioned drug to bend reality and people’s will around to their cause. It’s also interestingly structured with Fitz taking the slow way over a couple of years at the end of the 1960s discovering more about the drug as the Doctor and Sam dart about trying to find out who the 'revolution man' is.
No! no! no! no! NO!
I was fairly positive too with the approach to Fitz as he develops from being a cockney wide boy and a third wheel in the Tardis into a man of substance with a girlfriend and a cause making a kind of Oriental journey reminiscent of Frank Capra’s Lost Highway before, in the final section of the novel falling into Communist China. It’s the kind of narrative scale hinted at in Last of the Timelords, a companion traveling the world actually shown with the kind of sweep you’d expect from a Spielberg film. Similarly Sam goes on a mission to Spain, goes undercover in an evil version of The Green Death’s nut hutch and generally acts like she’s in the spy game, implying, given the era, an ITC series such as The Champions directed by Land and Freedom’s Ken Loach.
The characters are only generally given a stoccato development though, with only Fitz’s girl Maddie given anything like a non-stereotypical personality, at times looking like a potential new companion. Leonard also has a problem with his scene descriptions, sometimes attempting to conjure the fantastic but falling just short of giving the reader enough information to be able to understand what’s going on. You often get the feeling that he’s aping another writer’s style rather than expressing his own, a dangerous strategy which assumes the reader to have read widely enough to be picking up on the literary references.
many have tried and failed
He also doesn’t ever seem to get a handle on the character of the Doctor, who more often than not comes across as a darkly mysterious character and worse the manipulator of his previous incarnation which doesn’t fit 'life’s champion'. Granted there is some wonderful business related to the shorthand which has been built up between him and Sam in relation how she can find him again if he’s had to move the Tardis and a couple of kisses which try and sort out UNIT dating (many have tried and failed etc) but throughout he’s generally moody, broody and lacking the sense of humour which is usually evident even when a Dalek battle fleet has its lazers targeted at his arse.
All of which comes to a head in gob smacking finale which makes you question whether Leonard is a fan and more than that what was going on inside his dead whilst writing the closing few pages of the novel and this is the bit where I spoil the ending. Fitz has been brainwashed into becoming a communist, Sam’s not sure if she can trust him, they’re at Wembley Stadium doing a Crocodile Dundee across the shoulders of the crowd so that they can get to the stage were the villian, Ed, who it turns out is the one, via the drug, who has been manipulating reality and who if they’re not careful will bring about the end of the world.
I’ve bigger fish to fry
The Tardis arrives and the Doctor appears from within closely followed by a brainwashed Maddie who has a gun to his head (I could go on a wild tangent about the established state of grace within the Tardis and how it looks like he’s playing for time when he’s really not but I’ve bigger fish to fry (and other clichés) to deal with). There a scuffle, some jiggery pokery and Ed is building himself up to bringing about the apocalypse. In the midst of all that Fitz manages to wrestle the gun from Maddie and shoots Ed in the neck.
Oh, you think, very 24, the Doctor’s not going to like that, you’ll be kicked out the Tardis toot suite. Now, Ed’s not dead, he’s mad, his consciousness is even more disengaged and now the world’s really going to shit. By now the Doctor’s reasoned that the only way to stop the Earth from paradoxically poofing is for him to take the drug and press the reset switch (see what I mean about the similarity with LOTT?) and that before that Ed has to be stopped at all cost. So he bends over, picks up the gun, and shoots Ed in the head execution style. Ed’s dead.
No! No! No! No! NO!
No! No! No! No! NO! It’s one of the fundamentals of the series, the Doctor does not, I repeat does NOT! kill another human in cold blood like this and particularly with a gun. He finds another way, he does nothing, he’s talked out of it by a companion, the writer bends the narrative in such a way that he doesn’t have to but above all he does not shoot people with guns. Under any circumstances. True, something could be said about his genocidal tendencies in relation to other alien races and you could argue that the tenth version of him had to make much the same decision at the close of The Runaway Bride.
But this just weakens the character and more than that is lazy writing -- the reason we/I love Doctor Who and the character of the Doctor is that he uses his mind to get out of these things, he’s not Jack Bauer, he doesn’t shoot and ask questions later, because let’s face it, what’s the point in that? It’s this propensity for shooting things that weakened Torchwood as well, the climax of Cyberwoman being a particular disgrace. Leonard tries his best to work around the thing, presenting the pain the Doctor’s obviously feeling, presenting Sam as the annoyed voice of sanity questioning his actions so that the time lord can use the ‘There was no other way’ argument. But it's not enough, it ruins the book and dims the franchise, if only for a fraction of a second.
Anyway, in this grand narrative version of those writing games I used to play in English class where someone would leave a sentence hanging and hidden under a fold for the next person to continue I’ll be interested to see if Nick Walter’s picks up on all this and thematically weaves it into his novel Dominion. But if this range is anything to go by, he’ll skip forward a couple of weeks and everything will have been forgotten …