Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Original Sin - Andy Lane

Original Sin provided some interesting twists for Virgin series of Doctor Who New Adventures.  It features one of the Original Series' finest baddies and was the second time in that series that the Doctor took a new companion(s) onto the TARDIS.  The nature of these two new companions - Adjudicators Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej - then provided new enlightenment into the dystopian future that the NA authors loved so well.

The New Adventures carried on - at least initially - Sylvester McCoy's mysterious portrayal of the Doctor, the dark, cryptic Time Lord who served as "Time's Champion".  Because Original Sin takes place directly after that arc's key story Human Nature - where the Doctor becomes more aware of his actions' ramifications on his human friends, and thus less mysterious - the characterisation of the Doctor is very much of a likeable, but knowledgeable imp.  Newbies Cwej and Forrester are interesting and likeable enough, with Forrester particularly having the kind of emotional baggage that made Who writers in the mid-90s salivate.  While Benny - the most consistently drawn character in the entire Virgin NA series - is understandably her usual self, for a change there are actually some minor characters worth noting - in this case, the insane Doctor Zebulon Pryce.

However, it is in the characterisation of the chief villain that I was most disappointed.  Without revealing too much, he is maniacal rather than megalomanic, unhinged rather than calculating and desperate when opportunistic is much more to established type.  Personally, I don't mind when "Greatest Hits" bad guys are brought back, but prefer to see them written as they were in their original appearance: to be believable, they must command the same consistency as we expect from portrayals of the Doctor and his buddies.

Original Sin recreates a fondly-remembered bad guy simply because the author could, and then credits him as being behind the scenes of several high-profile Who enemies.  To do so partially and needlessly negates seminal stories such as Robot and, *cough* Invasion of the Dinosaurs.  Given lackadaisical characterisation and throwaway continuity, the book would have been better served with a new adversary.

As we've noted here before, much of early 90s Who was written by fans.  This brought with it good and bad points - the series was in the hands of people who genuinely cared about its direction, but given six-book story arcs and the occasional slavish reliance on continuity, the series became less accessible to the casual reader.  Who fans enjoy and relish the series history, but to become dependent on it - as the series itself did in the early '80s (thank you, Ian Levine) - is fanboy folly.  That those fanboys were apparently all devotees of William Gibson and Alan Moore is painfully apparent.

Occasionally, references to continuity were thrown in because they seemed like a good idea at the time (as in this case); became major characters (Irving Braxiatel) and sometimes were the premise of entire story arcs.   

Unfortunately, Original Sin is one of these novels where continuity becomes a major point in an otherwise quite open and intriguing plot.  There are several plot holes - especially a critical one concerning the impracticalities of the returning villain's far-reaching robot control - and some knowledge of Who's Earth Empire is required to fully understand the context of the novel.  Lane's writing style is interesting, but fails to fully engage the reader.  This means that with the undercurrent of technological terms (and complex Hith names that must be filed under "Seemed like a good idea at the time") at times makes progress hard slog.

In toto, the book seems as if Lane had a series of good ideas which were only tenuously connected and threw them together to create a novel which, while working, doesn't thrive.  It's a worthwhile read - if only to meet the new guys Cwej and Forrester - but feels like it should be more than it is.

Tennis Balls.

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