Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Campaign

(This post originally appeared on the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on 7 February, 2003.)

So, now we know what it takes to get blackballed from the BBC entirely.

Actually, that's not fair to Mortimore -- Campaign did not get shot down because of a judgement of its quality, it got shot down because it was not the book he told them he was going to write. I do feel that had he submitted the idea for Campaign as he wrote it, it could very well have been accepted -- it's a fascinating story that, somewhat in the manner of The Edge of Destruction, dissects the characters of the first TARDIS crew in great detail, even while pretty much ignoring the plot. There's a lot of fascinating, poetic writing in here, and a lot of amusing nods to such non-canonical stories as The Masters of Luxor and the novelization of The Daleks... but ultimately, I think, you'll get a lot more out of Campaign if you already know the twist at the end.

Spoilers for said twist...

In the end, we learn that the entire novel we've been reading -- the death of all the Tardis regulars, the destruction of the universe, their journeys with Alexander -- all of it was just one big trippy virtual reality game called 'The Game of Me'. This would have infuriated me had I not known it was coming -- there's just enough of a hint of a plot to Campaign that it does seem like Mortimore is leading somewhere with his references to Aristotle "fixing" the T.A.R.D.I.S., and the idea of "breaks in history" and discrepancies among the memories of the Tardis crew. It seems like something you can puzzle out -- is the TARDIS really pregnant? Did the Doctor and his companions destroy the universe by interfering with history in Alexander's timeline? Can all this be fixed? To learn that the answer is, "It's all just a big video game!" is a huge let-down.

Luckily, I already knew from the beginning that it was all just a big video game, and could focus on the writing involved. Which is... wow, it's nice. Mortimore has always focused on beautiful prose at the expense of the plot, so in some ways this is the culmination of that trend; the plot is utterly irrelevant, so he's free to write some amazing, hallucinogenic prose as he puts Ian, Barbara, Susan, Mandy, Lola, and Cliff through the wringer. For everyone who thinks of Mortimore as a companion-torturer, this won't change your opinions... every companion dies violent death after violent death. (The scene where Ian kills the Doctor a dozen or so times sticks out in the mind.)

Campaign fails on a number of levels, to be honest; the plot's pants, the whole thing turns incoherent towards the end, and I honestly can't say I'm surprised that the BBC rejected it. But if you're willing to accept those flaws and read it as, say, an extended prose poem, it's well worth taking a look at.

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