Monday 7 March 2011

Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock – reviewed

The eleventh Doctor is on tour with the Gentlemen, having shown some aptitude for the game of whackit. Soon they will play either the Tourists or the Visitors on the dimension-hopping world of Miggea for ownership of the Big Arrer, the Jewelled Shaft of Artemis. Mr Banning-Cannon is concerned that the appearance of his wife’s gravity-defying and spider-resembling hat at dinner will cause him such fear and consequent embarrassment that his reputation and career in planetary development will be ruined.

Lord Robin of Sherwood, Earl of Lockesley, also known as “Bingo”, is engaged to steal the hat. A planet will be his reward, letting him ennoble his friend Hari, who will then be in a position to request the hand of young Flapper Banning-Cannon. Bingo himself has eyes only for Miss Amy Pond. Meanwhile, the universe has been prompted into an early regeneration, and the moment has definitely not been prepared for. General Frank/Freddy Force and his Antimatter Men, agents of law, are on the case and the Doctor will have to turn for help to the corsairs of the Second Aether. Can balance be restored, or is the multiverse doomed?

Many Doctor Who plots sound a little odd when summarised, but this one will take some beating. It probably isn’t a surprise that Michael Moorcock’s first Doctor Who novel throws in elements from his other books – the multiverse, the characters and settings of Blood and its sequels, and the division between law and chaos, for example. What really surprises is that for the most part this reads like a Jeeves and Wooster novel, with posh young things getting into scrapes. This conjunction of styles makes it very peculiar, but like the excellent Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic from Vertigo, this isn’t inaccessible or difficult, it’s just odd.

Remarkably for a novel published so soon after broadcast of Steven Moffat’s first season, it captures the voices of the eleventh Doctor and Amy very well, despite the strange story in which they find themselves. Having said that, I suppose you could argue that the performances of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have been so distinctive and singular that it’s a delight to read any dialogue and imagine it in their voices. As far as the story goes, it would perhaps have fitted best in the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams period of the show.

The Doctor is shown as an informal agent of balance, which fits well with what we’ve seen of his life. We’ve seen him throw worlds into anarchy, seen him help people build new governments, and of course seen his decision to deny both Guardians the Key to Time. In any situation, he cares above all for the people involved. He’s very much at home in Moorcock’s multiverse; if anything he seems rather strait-laced and conventional in comparison to characters like Frank/Freddie Force (two men in one), Captain Cornelius (the pirate in the iron mask) or Captain Abberley and the Bubbly Boys.

I can imagine some Who fans simply dismissing this book as nonsense, but for some lucky fellows it’ll be their entry point into Moorcock’s marvellous oeuvre. Who fans enjoying this book might want to try the aforementioned Multiverse comic, or the Second Aether trilogy, though his most accessible works are probably the early Elric books. Moorcock fans heading in the other direction might enjoy the Who novels of Paul Magrs, or the Iris Wildthyme spin-offs. (I noted in a previous review that Iris herself was a very Moorcockian character.)

One negative point is that some running heads from the print version seem to have sneaked into the text of the Kindle edition, giving us confusing sentences like “He reached for his pipe, the coming of the terraphiles changed his mind” and “It’s been so long since doctor who I was here!” Also, the recaps, though helpful, can be a little repetitive, and in one or two places the book feels slightly underwritten. One might well speculate it was written at speed, given Moorcock’s well-known talent in that area.

Though The Coming of the Terraphiles isn’t a novel for everyone (possibly just for me, and no one else!) I found it witty and wise, silly and serious, nostalgic and innovative, and very affectionate towards the Doctor. Not my favourite Moorcock book, not my favourite Doctor Who book, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to like it at all, but I certainly had a very good time reading it.

The Coming of the Terraphiles, Michael Moorcock. BBC Books, Kindle, 5598ll. Amazon US. Amazon UK.

No comments:

Post a Comment