Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: Warmonger

(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, February 21 2003.)

This book almost defies description. It's awful -- cheerfully, gleefully awful. The characterization of the Doctor and Peri is so different from any other version ever seen of either of them in print or on screen that I began to suspect Terry had gotten his notes mixed up and thought he was writing for Blake's 7. The plot, while epic, is "epic" in the sort of Boy's Own Adventures way that's probably only fun if you're ten years old. The continuity is a walking, talking nightmare, the sort of thing that will give serious fans aneurysms and could well be the final stake in the coffin of canon.

And yet...

I loved it. I loved every single page of this book, whooping and hollering in places as another continuity treasure got plundered for the sake of a single book, laughing insanely as time twisted around and characters got run through the mangler, and generally enjoying the hell out of myself. Like Blood Harvest, another Uncle Terry sequel to one of his famous TV stories, Warmonger carries off its prose style with such verve and sheer enthusiasm for the act of writing that I couldn't help but be carried along with it. This isn't fanwank, because in fanwank, the story exists to fill holes in continuity. Here, the holes in continuity exist because of the story.

So, where to begin? With "The Supremo", the Doctor's alias for most of the book? Aside from being the sort of name that provokes hoots of derisive laughter, and sounds like someone the Karkus might have fought in the Daily Telepress to boot, it's actually a clever idea. The Doctor is crossing his own timestream and, in his own personal past, leading the fight against the Time Lord Morbius who he will someday encounter as a disembodied brain. He certainly can't call himself the Doctor.

There. I've given it away.

Warmonger is a sprequel (part sequel, part prequel, only possible in a universe with time travel) to The Brain of Morbius. In fact, that's my only real problem with the novel (he says, awaiting the hoots of derisive laughter.) Dicks should have realized that any serious fan has figured out who "General Rombusi" is within two pages (and I mean that literally -- this is one of the rare stories whose main plot twist is given away in its dedication), and skipped the whole mystery thing to just go gung-ho with it. As it is, we're stuck watching the mysterious General, a charismatic renegade Time Lord, discuss private matters with Solon on Karn while the Doctor wonders, "Who can he be?" He's the Rani, Doctor. In a very cunning disguise.

Still, he does go pretty gung-ho. Peri becomes a guerilla leader, the Doctor leads an alliance of Ice Warriors, Sontarans, and Cybermen against Morbius' troops, Peri gets drunk and makes a pass at the Doctor only to be turned down when the Doctor describes the intended tryst as "incestual", Solon makes his first appearance, we get a vampire adjutant to Morbius thrown in for no apparent reason, and to top it all off, we get the first chronological appearances of Borusa and the Sisterhood of Karn to boot. This is a book that does not slow down for its readers. (And I didn't even mention that the Doctor threatens to kill Solon even before he becomes "The Supremo".)

The whole thing is a walking, talking, continuity nightmare on top of that. The Doctor travels from Karn to Gallifrey in a space-ship (contradicting every story that talks about Gallifrey as existing in the ancient past), and meets Borusa in his first incarnation, presumably before the Doctor's even been loomed (which contradicts all the rules about not being able to travel to Gallifrey in one's own personal past). Then the Time Lords recognize the Doctor, despite this being in his own personal past, and begin threatening to imprison him for the theft of a Type 40 TARDIS he hasn't stolen yet. By the time the Cybermen ally themselves with the Sontarans, The History of the Universe has gone right out the window.

Even so, it's just so much fun to read. Terry's having a blast writing this, and I can't say I had a bad time reading it. Great lines pepper the book, like, "The operation is a brilliant success. The life or death of the patient is largely irrelevant." It just feels like so much fun -- it might be cheesy, but it's a high-quality cheese.

Ultimately, I have to recommend this novel, although you should read it with the understanding that it's a "good bad" book. However, I do wish he'd chosen a different Doctor/companion combo for it. Sixth Doctor/Peri would have worked a bit better... but in a perfect parallel universe, it was Warmonger and not The Eight Doctors that kicked off the EDAs.

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