Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Loving the Alien

(This post originally appeared on the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on 3 April, 2005.)

A Review by John Seavey 3/4/05

When I first heard about Loving the Alien, I was interested despite not enjoying any of Mike Tucker and Steve Perry's previous Doctor Who novels. The idea of a PDA that actually formed a story arc with Prime Time and Heritage, that followed up on the events of previous novels... well, it intrigued me, and so I approached Loving the Alien with cautious optimism.

Despite a promising opening, I think I can safely say that it wasn't justified.

The story is murky, muddled, confused and confusing; Ace's death, the hook that draws us into the novel, is dealt with in an irritating and disappointing fashion; the characters are dull, the Doctor's an idiot, the villain's lame, and the ending is incomprehensible. The "About the Author" section claims that this novel ends the story arc begun in Illegal Alien... my only prayer is that Perry and Tucker decide never to put pen to paper again.

The big important plot point of the book, of course, the thing that draws us into the novel, is an elegant idea -- the Doctor finds Ace's body, and has to try to figure out how to stop a murder that has already taken place. This is a great hook for a Doctor Who novel, and the opening scene with the Doctor conducting an autopsy on Ace's corpse, charting the course of events that will lead to her demise while swearing to save her, even if he has to break the Laws of Time, is a wonderful opening to the novel.

Then the Doctor lets Ace wander off on her own without him and she gets shot in the head and dies. Well, there goes the suspense and excitement... not to mention, the Doctor comes off looking like an idiot as well. We're told that when she wanders off at Woodstock, the Doctor utterly freaks out -- suddenly, he's blithely letting her traipse off to God-Knows-Where mere hours before he knows for a fact that her body's going to be fished out of the Thames, with only a homing beacon to locate her by. This isn't "saving her, even if he has to break the Laws of Time" -- this is "not even trying to save her, and letting events take their course." It doesn't deliver on the promise of the novel, it doesn't pay off later in the book, and it's a frankly awful way to deal with what could have been a truly great story.

After that, there's loads of wandering around and fighting, with alternate realities popping up left and right (the Doctor's explanations to Limb and O'Brien do contradict the way history is explained in Time Zero, but I can at least rationalize this away by believing that the Doctor, pressed for time, does not get into the details of time travel and alternate realities the way he does with Sabbath, who understands the physics involved.) Plenty of people die, others get saved, and we're never given any real reason to care about any of them. The authors clearly believe that we should care about Cody McBride, Chief Inspector Mullen, and Rita Hawks, because they devote loads of page time to them and because the Doctor and Ace like them, but giving more page time to boring characters fails to make them less boring. It just grates.

In the end, reality and the multiverse is saved because... um... apparently because James Dean crashed his car into George Limb's time machine, although I think that the Doctor must have done something else off-screen to repair the damage to reality, because that sure as heck doesn't make sense as an explanation. Then again, it's all you're going to be given, so go with it. Oh, and Ace's death doesn't matter, because the Doctor adopts a new Ace from another reality, and that makes it all better. I think the phrase "Yeurgh" neatly sums up my reaction to the last half of this novel. (And as a side note: Perry and Tucker's gargantuan retcon doesn't work as an explanation of why "their" Ace has a surname of Gale and the New Adventures Ace has a surname of McShane. They claim that the new, alternate reality Ace has trouble remembering her surname -- however, that wouldn't explain why Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart found records of the disappearance of a Dorothy McShane. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure they mention Ace's mum's name in Happy Endings...)

On the whole, if you quit reading at about page 110 and make up your own, far better ending, Loving the Alien is a decent book. If you read the whole thing cover to cover, though... you have my sympathies.

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