(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on August 12, 2001.)
Well, I obviously took quite a long hiatus to get to the end of this one; unfortunately, I think some of this was engendered by the novel itself. I found myself agreeing with both sides of the debate over this novel; on the one hand, I agreed that it was an intruiging experiment in bringing elements from a different genre to the world of Doctor Who, while on the other hand, I agreed that it was repetitive and slow. On the whole, I'd have to say that its structural flaws outweigh its innovations in approach.
The biggest problem with Rags is that it doesn't progress forwards, rather it simply trawls along sideways until it reaches a certain point. Very little happens in the novel; to sum up the plot would be to repeat over and over, "The band and its followers move to a new town. People get killed. The band and its followers move to a new town. People get killed. The band..." until finally, the band and its followers move to the last town, and the Doctor lectures the evil creature until its followers turn on it and seal it up in a big rock. Needless to say, plotwise, this is not sparkling work.
Stylistically, it borrows heavily from the "splatterpunk" sub-genre of horror, which uses vivid and evocative images of violence, gore, and repulsiveness to create a horror reaction that isn't so much terror as it is reflexive revulsion; the scenes of the singer spewing maggots from his mouth, or the descriptions of the policemen being torn apart by the band's followers are perfect examples. Unfortunately, though, with nothing else but these images to sustain the narrative, the sheer repetitiveness destroys their power. (The same is also true for the descriptions of the band's music; there is an inherent difficulty in conveying music in a print medium, and ultimately, reading "They played a hateful tune" in umpteen variations grew tiresome by the end.)
In addition, the book suffers from "EDA Syndrome" the Doctor does sod-all through the course of the narrative, and spends large portions of it imprisoned and filled with self-doubt. Seen it, done it, been there, bought the T-shirt.
I had high hopes at the beginning of Rags... the author does have a vivid prose style, and some scenes still stand out in the mind. Ultimately, though, the story is a hollow shell, and while it looks interesting, there's nothing there to lend it weight.