Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Big Bang Generation

Gary Russell's revenge is best served cold.

In 2001, he published the novel 'Instruments of Darkness', which brought Big Finish audio companion Evelyn Smythe into the BBC Books and established her, and by extension the Big Finish audios, as "canonical" (for those who take such things seriously). It received lackluster reviews, primarily from people who felt that it was an exercise in nostalgia, excessive continuity references, filling in plot holes from other Gary Russell novels, and hagiography for a companion that Russell had created and clearly loved, but couldn't show and had to therefore tell with several scenes where people just stood around explaining how great she was.

(Shortly afterward, Gary Russell declared his stated belief that the audios and the books were separate canons and that he didn't care about tying them together anyway. Not that I'm suggesting these things are related.)

It took fourteen long years for Russell's plan to come to its ultimate fruition. Fourteen years of patiently waiting for Doctor Who to once again become a global televised phenomenon, for the TV series to adapt Big Finish audios and Virgin New Adventures in a way that cast doubt on the canonicity of the books and the CDs from the Wilderness Years, for River Song (a clear and loving pastiche of Bernice Summerfield) to be taken into fans' hearts while the original Benny languished in spin-offs and the memories of a tiny subset of the new fandom, for the phenomenon known as "NAstalgia" (an unthinking adoration for the Virgin New Adventures based on rosy memories of their output) to develop. Fourteen years for Gary Russell's masterstroke.

'The Big Bang Generation' weaponizes NAstalgia. It's a wafer-thin run-around that only makes vague stabs at coherence, with dull and unconvincing villains and dozens of pointless digressions that only serve to hang continuity references on. It's utterly disposable, not awful but mainly the sort of thing that you'd maybe give to an eight-year-old in an effort to keep them quiet for a few hours. BUT IT'S GOT BERNICE SUMMERFIELD IN IT.

More specifically, it has Bernice Summerfield's first-ever appearance in the New Series canon in any form, her first meeting with the Capaldi Doctor, her first official meeting with the Doctor since 1997's 'The Dying Days', and the first canonical appearance of any characters created for her Big Finish spin-off series in official Doctor Who media. In short, this is a book pretty much designed to settle the argument, to the extent that it can reasonably be settled, of whether the Wilderness Years are canon. And it comes down hard on the triumphant, fist-pumping, it-even-mentions-Keri-the-Pakhar, "Yes!" side of the equation.

And so Gary Russell's revenge is complete. Because I have to admit, it was totally worth the aimless plot, the unconvincing villains, and even having to put up with lifeless Big Finish tagalongs Ruth and Jack in order to get Bernice Summerfield and the Doctor together once more. God help me, I enjoyed this book even as I cringed at how many scenes were really just one character or another reminiscing about how great Bernice Summerfield was, and how she was the Best Companion Ever, and how her touch could cure scrofula. Because I can't help it, I agree with that. 'Big Bang Generation' proved that the only difference between me and the target audience of 'Instruments of Darkness' was the choice of companion to get all misty-eyed over.

I actually liked 'Big Bang Generation'. From hell's heart, Gary Russell, I salute you.

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