Monday, June 2, 2014

Retrospective: Andy Lane

(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, September 15, 2003.)

Most authors in the Doctor Who range have certain distinct elements that stand out in their writing; whether a certain style, a recurring set of characters or locations, or a fascination with a particular era of the show, each author handily carves out a distinct niche in the series. Andy Lane, though, at first proves frustratingly elusive in that regard. Some of this comes from the fact that a good percentage of his published work (Lucifer Rising, All-Consuming Fire, Original Sin, The Empire of Glass, and The Banquo Legacy) has been written with other authors, and even those novels that he wrote on his own, he wrote while in close contact with other authors for the range. In addition, his novels vary widely in style -- All-Consuming Fire is a conscious attempt to pastiche Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, while Lucifer Rising deliberately mimics the style of his co-author Jim Mortimore. For someone trying to discern a common thread, a distinct "Andy Lane" that sets him apart from any other writer, one must look to the common thread that unites all his novels -- a fascination with the past, both historical and fictional.

Much of this love of the past comes out in the form of love of the past of the TV series Doctor Who, and it's no real surprise that Andy Lane is one of the worst offenders in regard to that peculiarly Whovian pastime known as "fanwank". Every novel he's written is solidly grounded in the series' history, from his explications of the Armageddon Convention (mentioned once in Revenge of the Cybermen) and setting of one of his novels (just before The Dalek Invasion of Earth) to his re-use of Tobias Vaughn, a villain from the Troughton era who'd only made one appearance, or his creation of a character who'd been married to a crewman on the ship Hydrax, which was in the TV story State of Decay, and... you get the idea. He even has one scene, early in Original Sin, in which he actually has the Doctor rummage through the TARDIS boot cupboard and reminisce about his old boots and which adventures he wore them in. Sometimes it's silly, as the above example, but sometimes, like an archaeologist or historian, he can use these elements of the series to illuminate something stronger. Though set far in the future, the Earth Empire from The Mutants becomes a dynamic, vivid society in his hands, and he fleshes out quite well eras and ideas only hinted at on the series.

This same historian's passion comes out in his other novels, those set solidly in real eras of Earth's past. He spends as much time working to re-create Victorian London, distant Bombay, and 16th-century Venice as he ever does with the plots of his stories, and a good part of his skill lies in vividly decribing these places and times, showing them as exotic and foreign lands -- even when they should seem familiar. He has a passion for tiny details that lend verisimilitude to the story, whether they be the tendency for British barkeeps to add strychnine to beer, the convoluted politics of Venice, or the exact origins of the word "posh" (POrt in, Starboard Home). Even his style evokes the elegant past -- The Banquo Legacy and All-Consuming Fire both take the form of journals written by men of another age, and feel authentic.

Beyond the passion for history, Lane comes off as a solid writer. His plots, while not necessarily as intricate as some other authors, still come off as intelligent and straight-forward, while his characters make themselves likeable (if occasionally veering towards caricatures.) And two of his characters, the police duo of Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej, have wound up becoming vital parts of the Doctor Who mythos and fondly-remembered companions. Roz, in particular, is given a solid and deep background without Lane dumping loads of information on the reader in her first appearance. The New Adventures were better for the appearance of two such well-realized companions.

It's uncertain whether we'll see another Andy Lane novel; never one of the more prolific authors for the line, his books have come with far less frequency now that they have moved from Virgin to the BBC. Still, a return engagement wouldn't be unwelcome -- or, perhaps, he might consider writing a reference guide for the series. For someone with such a passion for history, it seems like a natural occupation.

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