« Forum Watch: Finding Fear? | Main | "John Barrowman you are naughty! Of course, I was kind of expecting you to be. " »

Sep 07, 2007

The Ancestor Cell

Ancestorcell And relax.  After forty odd novels and a handful of short stories, I finally reach the biggest spoiler I was going to encounter in this endeavour.  Rather like the Master’s return in Utopia, I’ve known what happens at the conclusion of The Ancestor Cell for seven years and not because of a tabloid (imagine if they’d given a toss in two-thousand) but from our own party newsletter.  Like Utopia though, the devil was going to be in the method, how it was going to happen and it seems only right and proper that a very big lever should be involved.  But, since I know there will still be a couple of people who aren’t totally aware of the magnificent conclusion of this particular story of the timelord Doctor that’s all I’ll say.  This review will be largely spoiler free. Heavy sigh.

But feel free to email if you have any questions. 

What I can say though is that it’s the kind of work which is largely impossible to review.  I know Vanessa Bishop gave it a decent go in DWM way back when and noted that it mostly looks like the authors Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole made a list of everything they thought needed to be sorted out in terms of the plot-arc and the characters and worked their way through from top to bottom.  That’s not an impression I can disagree with -- this does pack in a whole vast range of continuity references, so much so that at times they threaten to overwhelm the impetuous of what all of these books should be about -- the adventure.  In case it hasn’t become apparent much as I love continuity, it’s needs to be in the service of the romp, not the romp itself.

Despite that, the authors have still managed to produce a highly entertaining read, largely because they've taken the material and molded it into what's essentially a solidly traditional narrative, without the fractured time structures, interesting literary devices or experimentation of the likes of The Blue Angel or even Frontier Worlds.  Lawrence Miles isn't much of a fan of what Cole and Anghelides did to his ideas (he's said so in many an interview) to the point of disregarding whole sections of it in his own Faction Paradox work.  To be fair to Miles, the concepts are interesting and exciting but unfortunately within the format of these novels and the way they were published they weren't given the necessary space to breath.  He perhaps imagined that the novels resulting from Interference would be all about the Faction Paradox, the Celestis and the timelords making plans for the enemy. 

Unfortunately, up to and including the new series, Doctor Who as a concept has never been comfortable with structured plot-arcs, b-stories that last across whole stretches.  Its stock in trade, and when it has been most successful has always been when adventures that are comprehensible to the newbe or fairweather or non-fan.  Otherwise an odd kind of fatigue sets in as the particular producer, editor or writer tries to circumvent the premises inherent randomness by setting the Doctor on an imutable course.  BBC Books, quite rightly, didn't want any of the books to be too obscure for the casual browser who remembers the show as a kid. 

With the exception of The Taking of Planet 5, the books have tried their best to set the Interference issues aside and with The Shadows of Avalon try and defocus them, putting the burden of plotting in Compassion's hands.  Under these circumstances, Interference looks like the publishing equivalent of the tee-totaler going out and getting blissfully rat-arsed, sleeping with the wrong person and then regretting it for months afterwards, trying desperately to reaffirm their natural tendencies, with just a few lapses here and there.  The Ancestor Cell, then, may well be the novels turning up at an AA meeting, standing up and saying 'I'm a Doctor Who tie-in and I'm addicted to continuity.'

The novel is about as Doctor Who as one of these books can get.  The Faction Paradox in here then, become to all intents and purposes a fairly traditional antagonist bent on invasion, of Gallifrey instead of Earth, their overall plan no different -- if slightly more graphic -- than the Daleks hollowing out the Earth and turning it into a giant starship or using Satellite Five as a way of blocking an invasion fleet.  The timelords, in trying to capture Compassion aren't that much more different than Torchwood or some Terrabound scientists looking for a way to battle the Enemy (taking into account that the Enemy here is different to the Paradox).  The final battle between the Doctor and whoever is as old as the hills really, literally fighting his own future.

Romana_iiiFor a Gallifreyphile this offera an embarrassment of riches and it's worth noting that the planet and city described herein fits perfectly with the Doctor's description from series three.  Transduction barriers are mentioned and the whole place becomes far larger and the rather drab walls of the classic series, creating exactly the place I imagined from the Big Finish series.  Romana III is fleshed out some more, shades of grey introduced -- she's become the woman best suited apparently to defend her planet against the upcoming War -- regal and spoiled but not unsympathetic.  I'm not sure who the authors had in mind for this incarnation but I couldn't help but be reminded of Catherine Zeta Jones in Traffic, resorting to desperate, darker measures when her kin is threatened, and made hard by that.  The other timelords are all pleasingly fusty just as they should be, praiting naives all.  With the exception of Mali, who seems purposefully to be a reflection of the younger Romana conterpointing what the timelady has become.

Considering everything else that's happening, it's a surprise that the regulars are as well defined as they are and given as much focus.  The Doctor, who as the back of the book reveals, is being sought to join by the Faction Paradox is restricted and in the one place where he can't be the exciting legendary hero that we've come to expect.  He's a tragic figure only rarely able to exert his independence essentially leaning on his own faltering past to carry him through.  Fitz's story is just as complex, what with finally coming to terms with being a construct and meeting the real, older version of him, a bitter, twisted barely human soul.  But he's still irrepressible, wonderfully human despite his origins, unable to keep his fly zipped.  Pity about his conquest though.  And Compassion is as contrary as she usually is with her eye on a new timelord to carry about in her innards.  She's given a decent, heroic send off and I can't imagine this will be the last we (I?) see of her.

This then is the final end, for now.  Having reached what feels like a grandiose season ender and as was planned by new series editor Justin Richards a conscious break from the past to enter the new I'm taking a conscious decision to go on hiatus from the EDAs, a word I'm taking back just for this occasion, until at least next summer.  With three almost consecutive Who related series to come, the Key To Time season box set, the final two old school McGann Big Finish stories and the second series of the new school adventures, the storybook and other related new series novels coming soon (not to mention The Web of Fear, fingers crossed) there'll be a fair amount of Who floating about to enjoy anyway and I've other reading to do, there are worlds out there where a woman has become the time traveller's wife, a kid stays in the picture, and the men say yes. People made of celluloid and towns made of tinsel etc.

What a bizarre venture. 

Thirty-odd authors collectively writing a series of adventures for a forty-odd year old character in a version that appeared but once on television, in a desperate and often successful attempt to continue a legacy which under normal circumstances would have died out years before.  As well as producing work in the style of the classic series, here they all were actively trying to continue the story, enveloping in their own mythology, alienating some, fascinating others, never once producing work which will simply do, always experimenting creating as many blistering successes as wopping failures, just like the television series they're ostensibly based on.  All so that somewhere, their hero in his rackety old police box was still fighting the monsters, in the hopes that one day he'd be a hero for their own children too. 

And he is.

Comments

Stu:

Good review.

"...Interference looks like the publishing equivalent of the tee-totaler going out and getting blissfully rat-arsed..."

Ha-haa!! I'm looking forward to reading that one.

"...I'm taking a conscious decision to go on hiatus from the EDAs..."

With my projected selective edited-down EDA reading-plan (e.g. only the Terrance and Orman and Miles ones. And maybe some Magrs. Or something like that) maybe I'll have read The Adventuress of Henrietta Street by the time your review appears. Maybe not. Well done for the "half-marathon" of getting to #36 of 73.

"...With three almost consecutive Who related series to come, the Key To Time season box set, the final two old school McGann Big Finish stories and the second series of the new school adventures, the storybook and other related new series novels coming soon (not to mention The Web of Fear, fingers crossed)..."

Yeah. It's weird. Counting broadcast stuff only, we've just only just emerged from the almost-continuous DW-broadcast-fest of: Torchwood Season/SJA & DW specials/BBC7 8th D Season/DW Season 2007...

Broadcast-wise, it's soon another almost-continuous rollercoaster all the way to Autumn 2008.

Who'd have imagined all this in the year 2000?

(Answer: One man. RTD.)

Regarding Romana III, according to her Wikipedia entry (for Romana, that is), she was modelled after American silent movie actress Louise Brooks. There's no notation here, and I haven't the time to track down proof of this, but having looked over Ms Brooks's wiki, I find it quite fitting, although the resemblance between her and Catherine Zeta Jones, at least in the picture you've posted, isn't a stretch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Brooks

Aha! I'd heard that somebody was based on Louise Brooks but I thought it was one of Iris Wyldethyme's incarnations.

But I also think there's something of Zeta Jones' attitude in Romana III plus, once you'd come to a conclusion about that I mostly heard all of the dialogue in that wid-Welsh mid-Atlantic voice which fits perfectly at least in my head.

John -- exactly. In fact, the only type of Who fiction which isn't being produced is full length past Doctor novels...

The comments to this entry are closed.

Categories
Doctor Who: Series One
Doctor Who: Series Two
Doctor Who: Series Three
Torchwood: Series One
Torchwood: Series Two
The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series One
The Eighth Doctor BBC7 Audios
The Eighth Doctor Novels
The Tenth Doctor Novels
Stripped Down Series 1
Stripped Down Series 2
Stripped Down Series 3
Stripped Down Series 4
Stripped Down Series 5
Stripped Down Series 6