Thursday, May 29, 2014

Retrospective: Marc Platt

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

When the Virgin publishers decided to begin presenting "New Adventures" of Doctor Who, one of the first places they turned to was the pool of writers that the TV series had used in its last few seasons. Marc Platt, writer of Ghost Light and one of the principal architects of the infamous "Cartmel Masterplan" that laid out the ancient history of Gallifrey and the hitherto untold secrets of the Doctor's youth, still had a couple of unused scripts from the planned Season 27, and was glad for a place to put them. All in all, then, it's not surprising that his three books written for the Virgin line (Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, Downtime, and Lungbarrow) seem like a case of unfinished business.

Time's Crucible and Lungbarrow form an almost perfect matched pair; one, near the beginning of the line, laying the ground-work for the other's revelations about ancient Gallifrey near the end of the line. Stylistically, they're eerily similar; the unearthly, grey majesty of the City in Time's Crucible and the decrepit, buried mausoleum of Lungbarrow in Lungbarrow seem as though they could be in the same neighborhood. Platt's always stated that he's a fan of the Gothic novel, and nobody would have any difficulty believing it after reading Lungbarrow. Burns that never heal even after three regenerations, a living House that buries itself out of shame, a Ghost that haunts the halls until its missing will is found -- it's straight out of Poe or Peake, a compleat Gothic primer.

Platt's chilly, almost mathematically-precise prose style in the above books is hard to take for some; it's hard going to read at times, because there doesn't seem to be much emotion to it. However, once you get into the mind-set, there are gems to be unearthed. His Doctor, for one, is very much in the mode of the later seasons of the TV series -- strange, wonderful, and unknowable. His Ace in <>a href=cctim.htm>Time's Crucible sometimes seems as though she's skipped the previous four books of character development (most likely a legacy of its origins as a TV script), but his Ace in Lungbarrow is very much a creation of the books, and an elegant extrapolation of them at that. Plus, he does a wonderful job with the interaction between Chris and the Doctor and that sense of uncertainty between them that followed the death of Roz; I'd forgotten how well that was handled in those four books. Plus, of course, he writes the only appearance of Leela in the 94 Virgin novels, and does an interesting job of developing her out as a character post-Invasion of Time. It does make me wish we'd seen more of this version of the character.

Of course, no examination of Marc Platt's writing would be complete without discussing his take on Gallifrey and the Doctor, and after digesting it all, I still find it to be quite cleverly done. Everyone talks about how it removed the mystery from the Doctor, but I feel that the Doctor's mysteries had been removed quite effectively long before that -- towards the end of the Sixth Doctor's era, he was popping back and forth to Gallifrey like a Monday-morning commute, and mentioning Rassilon's name like he was just another historical figure he'd rubbed elbows with. By introducing the Other, the Pythia, and Lungbarrow, Platt added depth to the Gallifrey mythos, and I personally love it all.

This all just leaves Downtime, the odd man out in the trio -- it's actually a novelization of the script he wrote for a direct-to-video production, not an unused script that he turned into a novel. It's also stylistically different from the other two -- instead of being a chilly Gothic novel, it's a UNIT techno-thriller that fits neatly in between Mawdryn Undead and Battlefield in showing us the Brigadier's journey back to relevancy and redemption; here, the Brigadier learns about his grand-child and discovers that he doesn't need the Doctor or UNIT to be a hero. We also see loads of development to UNIT as well; Crichton from The Five Doctors shows up, as does Bambera (still a Corporal here), and we get hints of how the organization develops from the small group we see in the Pertwee era to the serious armed force that shows up in Battlefield. It's a trifle thin -- wide margins, big print -- but not bad for all that. Still, it's not the same sort of Marc Platt we see in his New Adventures.

On the whole, I doubt that we'll see another novel from Platt -- he's continued to work in other media, including some excellent audio plays from Big Finish, and I think that the novel was more a passing fling for him than a true love affair. Still, he's left us readers with loads of material to chew over, and he's not left Doctor Who behind... which is something of a relief, in my opinion.

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