Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Silhouette

It's sometimes difficult to remember, but there are actually two Justin Richards out there. The first Justin Richards is Justin on autopilot, the Justin who's asked to write a 250-page novel on about three weeks' notice and comes up with something palatable in that span of time, or the Justin Richards who writes the messy "arc plot" novels that are more of a laundry list of plot elements than an actual idea. It's the Justin Richards who wrote books like 'Grave Matter' or 'Time Zero' or 'Apollo 23'--not a bad writer by any stretch, but not a great writer either. He's a competent, reliable writer, no more or less.

And then there's the Justin Richards who wrote 'Silhouette'. This is Justin Richards when he's engaged with the material, when he's challenged by the writers around him to do his best work. This Justin Richards instantly grasps the tiny nuances of dialogue and mannerism that separate the Capaldi Doctor from the Smith Doctor, and writes him with that simmering, icy anger just beneath the surface that Capaldi's performance brings out. This Justin Richards relishes the chance to write for characters like Strax, Vastra and Jenny, effortlessly displaying the character dynamics between them and showing why so many people feel like they should have their own spin-off by now.

This Justin Richards delivers a Victorian mystery with science-fiction elements that seamlessly evokes the current season of the television series. It's a pastiche, without question--Richards isn't trying to do something that couldn't be done on television, he's trying to do something that would fit right next to 'Deep Breath' in the Doctor Who canon. But it's a pastiche that's executed with verve and energy and joy, one that feels fresh and exciting simply because it's been done so well. Richards "gets" modern Who, and he's having fun playing with it. That's not to say there's nothing he does that couldn't be done on the show--the scene where Affinity, the villain's shapeshifting henchman, tries to cast his glamour on the Doctor and repeatedly gets the wrong incarnation out of it is a treat--but the main point is that right now, the televised Doctor Who is good enough that pastiching it well is something to be proud of.

This Justin Richards doesn't make as many appearances as he used to--which isn't surprising, since he's the editor of the Doctor Who range and his commissions usually mean that there was an emergency somewhere along the line that required that other Justin Richards to step in and whip out a book in a hurry. But when we do get this Justin, I'm reminded that he's a great writer who can come back and do another book any time he wants to.

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