Monday, December 21, 2015

Doctor, Doctor: Terrance Dicks' CATASTROPHEA

After not liking Byzantium! too much and thus becoming just a leetle bit discouraged by what I'd taken on in setting out to read as much Doctor Who prose fiction as I could find, I needed something that I was reasonably sure I could trust that I would enjoy, while still kind of following the notion that I've had that I'd read these in numerical order by Doctor*, and boom: Catastrophea, by none other than Terrance Dicks!**

And Terrance Dicks wrote a story in which the Third Doctor and Jo travel in time and space, to the far future and another planet! The last time this happened for me was, well, when Alastair Reynolds took the Third Doctor out for a spin in Harvest of Time, which was brilliant. So, whoa. I mean, I had to sit down and catch my breath before even starting this.

Marvelously, that was the perfect frame of mind for me to be in as the action of Catastrophea (the title being an in-universe joke playing on the name of the planet on which this story takes place, properly named Kastopheria) as The Third Doctor and Jo are just coming away from their adventures on Spiridon, which means Jo's time with the Doctor is almost over and she's going to meet her husband very soon and so immediately there are ALL THE FEELS, which the Doctor experiences right along with us because Terrance Dicks knows his audience...

And BOOM. Right in the middle of the White Man's Human's Burden: a colony with all the problems that entails, including an enslaved-but-possibly-gonna-revolt race simply known as The People (who don't look anything like Cthulhu, thank you very much, but yeah, hard not to think of the Ood now, but this book was written in 1998 and I don't think the Ood were even a spark in Russell T. Davies' brain***) and a rival power, and the rival power is the Draconians! So much hooray! I kind of love the Draconians, especially after having fairly recently enjoyed the Sixth Doctor/Charley Pollard Big Finish romp Paper Cuts!

Not that we get to them immediately, of course. No, first we have the colonists, straight out of the reign of Queen Victoria (except, of course, not) fretting over what to do about a myriad of problems, including a resurgent John Company-type exploitation firm, a host of meddling bleeding hearts who want to protect the natives from said Company, various flavors of evil mercenary scum and smugglers, and a growing tendency among the docile natives for individuals to go berserk and kill everything in sight -- and enter the Doctor and Jo, who were making a beeline back to good old 1970s Britain until the Doctor was overwhelmed by the projected psychic pain of a whole planetful of beings that he couldn't ignore.

Now, you don't think it's the human colonizers' pain he responded to, do you?

The resulting tangle of competing interests and big blustery personalities has a very predictable and familiar feel, but contains just enough twists to stay fun, helped along by a cast of well-developed and engaging supporting characters, and just enough Venusian Aikido to keep things moving right along. The Third Doctor is elegant and active; Jo is cute, spunky and insightful. It all hangs together beautifully and one can almost convince herself it's the novelization of a late tenth season serial that she just kept missing on television. Which only makes sense, because Terrance Dicks!

And so now, just for fun and maybe to be a bit of a crank, in addition to my A&MDR, I'm going to start an A&MAR, too (A for Author, dur). So far, including Harvest of Time, I've read five, count them, five Doctor Who novels, by five different authors, and I'm going to read lots more because Terrance Dicks did his job and re-ignited my excitement for this project, but here they stand for now:

Alastair Reynolds
Mark Gatiss
Terrance Dicks
Justin Richards
Keith Topping

I'll just tell you right now, though, that Reynolds is going to be very hard to beat, because he is one of my favorite authors, full stop, and so anyone who's going to challenge him for the crown is going to have to really really bring it -- especially if, as I dearly hope will happen someday, Al writes another Doctor Who novel. I'd love to see what he could do with, say, the Ninth Doctor. Or, OMG, the War Doctor!!!!

Speaking of the War Doctor, you totally owe it to yourself to pony up for Big Finish's amazing and splendid and damned near perfect Only the Monstrous, which is a full-cast War Doctor adventure and yes of course it's John Hurt as the War Doctor. I'm pretty sure that this thing could make a believer of even the crankiest foot-stampy old school fanboi (I know there are some out there who think the whole Time War/War Doctor thing is a load of hooey). I'd blog about it as its own entry but it would pretty much just be a series of exclamation points, and that's boring to look at. So just go! If you've ever trusted me about anything (and, of course, you like Doctor Who), go!

So with these things in mind, my Arbitrary and Mercurial Doctor Ranking after Catastrophea and Only the Monstrous:

And while like I said last time there are too many companions for me to rank, I'll at least play with the ones that have recently occupied my brainpan in various media. So Evelyn Smythe is still my favorite, with Donna probably tied with Jo for second, and then Jamie, then *everybody else*, Peri and Mel, and Ian still at the bottom.

On to a Fourth Doctor novel!

*Though yes, I started with a Second Doctor novel, but that's because lots of people screamed I was underrating that Doctor and they were right!

**Who wrote for the original show, served as script editor for the show, wrote a whole lot of novelizations of TV episodes, and is the author of a whole lot of original Doctor Who prose fiction as well. As in WOO-HOO TERRANCE DICKS!

***Though the double-episode that introduced us to the Ood, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, owes a very, very great deal to this book in oh, so many ways. As in all of the good stuff in those episodes is more or less lifted from Catastrophea, but none of the bad except for, you know, the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler.

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