Monday, June 3, 2013

Alien Bodies Revisited

(Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list on January 9th, 2003.)

I recently decided to re-read Alien Bodies, more or less entirely on a whim; I hadn't read the book since its original release back in 1997, in no small part because I had enjoyed it so much when I first read it. Having come, as it did, after a stretch of books that included 'The Eight Doctors', 'The Bodysnatchers', and 'War of the Daleks', it really single-handedly revitalized my hope for the range, making me believe that there was really something interesting and exciting going on, something that would make the BBC Books just as good as their predecessors. Given that weight, could it really be as good as I remembered it being after years of War-related books and the detonation of the entire plotline after 'The Ancestor Cell'?

The answer was yes. Very much so.

In a lot of ways, I think my enjoyment of the novel was enhanced by the knowledge of the arc. A few bits stood out as being "promises unfulfilled"...the tidbits we did get about the Enemy don't jibe with TAC at all, and we never did find out the full story about the Doctor's body...or about Trask (and isn't it interesting that Trask, an agent for the Celestis, remembers drowning while the Doctor watched...and years later in the range, not one but two characters have drowned while the Doctor watched--Rasputin and Roger Nepath? The fanboy in me geeks out at the thoughts in this...) A few other threads did get followed up, even if I wasn't totally satisfied with the way they finished off. The War, in the end, just got hacked off like a gangrenous limb, which was something of a shame--however, I think an ending was needed by that point, even if I wish it had been handled somewhat differently. Faction Paradox has never been handled as well by anyone else. Qixotl vanished into the ether (and hopefully, please god hopefully so did the review in which I suggested he was Captain Cook from 'Greatest Show In the Galaxy'. Look, he mentioned Golobus...and the Evil From Before the Dawn of Time...Drax was my second guess, honest! I got Tobias Vaughn right in 'Original Sin', by something like 50 pages in! I even figured out that Maggie Walsh was the head of the Initiative! :) )

Still, what stands out in 'Alien Bodies' for me is the way that it wears the Doctor Who universe so well. We get the Krotons showing up, and showing up in such a way that they're actually cleverly used. We get name-checks of planets from the TV series, but so casually, so deftly that they really seem more natural than fanwank, like mentioning Cleveland when doing a TV show set in Pittsburgh. Fanwank is always a dangerous proposition, but Miles uses it as just another tool in his toolbox.

And the language...oh sweet mercy. Marie, the humanoid TARDIS that gets stuck in the form of a 1960s policewoman. The Shift, popping up in the TV listings and the crossword puzzles. The Doctor's line about "Talking with your dementias is the first sign of madness". Jaguar urine as a surveillance device. Dark Sam being "the only person in her class who didn't think homosexuals should be shot". The Raston cybernetic lap-dancers, the "finest dancing machines ever created." So many more...

I know there's been a critical backlash against this book since it was published. I'd like to backlash against the backlash...this book deserves all the praise it got, and should really have been the template of the BBC series even more than it was--and it was the template for a lot of the BBC series. Truly a fine, fine novel.

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