THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV EPISODES "THE LODGER" AND "THE PANDORICA OPENS."
OFFICIAL BBC HARDBACK
RELEASED IN OCTOBER 2010.
THERE ARE DARK TIDES RUNNING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE - SO STRONG THEY SWALLOW LIGHT AND THREATEN CAPTAIN CORNELIUS'S FAMILIAR
EXISTENCE; IF UNCHECKED THEY WILL ABSORB THE WHOLE OF CREATION.
BUT FOR NOW HE TACKS INTO THE SOLAR WINDS, CONTINUING HIS LONG SEARCH FOR SOMEONE
TO GUARANTEE HIS LIFE, HIS SHIP'S LIFE AND THE LIFE OF THE UNIVERSE THAT HE LOVES.
HE SAILS FROM THE RIM, SEARCHING FOR THE ONLY BEING HE ACKNOWLEDGES AS HIS PEER, WHO MIGHT JOIN HIM; WHO IS KNOWN SIMPLY AS 'THE DOCTOR.'
I’ve a confession to make. I’ve never read any Michael Moorcock before.
I know; it’s terrible. It’s a fact that has led me to be held in derision by other readers of fantasy fiction, who couldn’t believe that one who describes himself as such could possibly have missed out on the works of this legendary author. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. He’s been on my list for some time, but it’s a long list, and there are many, many authors and many, many novels out there; fantasy and otherwise. However, I am happy to say that, having read my first Moorcock novel, I intend to follow it up with a second very soon.
Swathed in a beautifully illustrated scarlet dust jacket comes the first fully Beeb-sanctioned Doctor Who novel in almost five years to be written for an adult audience. Since the release of Atom Bomb Blues, all the Doctor’s officially licensed literary adventures have been of the more child-friendly variety. This is not to be disparaging; the range of tie-in novels that has accompanied the new television series has been phenomenally successful, and has included a couple of real belters. Nonetheless, there has been, for some time, a very vocal group of fans who have longed for something a little deeper, a little longer, and a little more challenging. Finally, here it is.
The Coming of the Terraphiles, in its larger hardback format and exquisite design, has clearly been fabricated in order to silence the naysayers and declare that it is, indeed, A Proper Book. One that is, with its well-known and respected author, of the sort that makes even sci-fi poo-pooers sit up and take notice. But what, worried many a fan, what if he can’t write Who? What if this bold experiment fails and ends this range before it’s even begun?
Well quell your fears, gentle reader, for Te-rraphiles is brilliant; a genuinely captivating fantasy with scope, flair and good humo-ur. With the Doctor and Amy arriving in a colourful and highly populous universe - or indeed, multiverse - fifty thousand years in our future, Moorcock creates a vivid land-scape of black holes, starships that run on colour force, sailing ships ferrying star pirates and mantid insects driving taxis through dirty spaceports. A universe where Judoon rub shoulders with centaurs, and space opera sits happily alongside Wodehouse whimsy. Yet, even as the Doctor joins the Gentlemen (a team of Earth-geek Terraphiles who play a sport concocted from half-remembered nostalgia and a misinterpreted muddle of cricket, archery and nut-cracking) terrible things are afoot. The very existence of the multiverse hangs in the balance, and saving it won’t be easy; not with such rogues as piratical Captain Cornelius around, not to mention Frank / Freddie Force and his Antimatter Men…
Some Who fans have found fault with this novel, struggling to enjoy it in spite of Moorcock’s captivating prose and wonderful imagination. It’s true that the Doctor and Amy appear little in the book’s opening third, which takes its time in establishing the colourful universe of the narrative and introducing a distinctly Bertie Woosterish cast of characters. And it can’t be denied that Moorcock’s version of Amy is off - the portrayal of her as someone out of her depth, yet exhilarated by it, is wonderful and fitting, yet her dialogue rarely strikes true and she almost seems too at ease with the vastness of the Doctor’s world by the close of the narrative for it to sit quite comfortably with her appearance in the series to date. However, his characterisation of the Doctor, a mix of Boy’s Own excitability and the weariness of the ancient is spot on, and the supporting characters are so entertaining that it is very hard to complain.
Some reviews have declared that this isn’t a proper Doctor Who novel at all, condemning it as merely a Michael Moorcock novel that happens to feature certain Doctor Who elements. To paraphrase someone cleverer than me, there’s no sense in reading a Doctor Who novel by Michael Moorcock and then complaining that you get something all Moorcocky with the Doctor in it. In fact, this is the novel’s greatest strength: it expands the world of Doctor Who by fusing it with the many worlds of Moorcock. I know enough about the author’s work to have heard of Jerry Cornelius, and to be familiar with the trope of the Eternal Champion - a character who takes on many guises and avatars through the multiverse. So the captivating Captain Cornelius is certainly significant, as, I’m sure, are many other aspects to this reality that I’ve yet to learn. Both universes shall no doubt benefit from this cross-breeding, and if it is leading Who fans like myself to seek out more of Moorcock’s works, then surely there will be Moorcock enthusiasts out there who will be inspired to catch some Doctor Who.
Terraphiles takes the modern yet strange and old-fashioned eleventh Doctor and puts him right at the centre of the multiverse, unique and responsible for its continued existence and evolution - something that sits perfectly with his role in the climactic events at the end of his first televised season. That this mythic element of the character sits so perfectly alongside a wonderfully silly scene in which he goes head to head against two armoured Judoon, trying to wrongfoot them in a mallet-wielding nutcracking contest by making disparaging remarks about their mothers, with the fate of universes hanging on the result, is the perfect example of just how enjoyable this novel is. I very much hope that it is a sign of things to come, and that, alongside the ongoing range of more straightforward “young adult” novels, we get occasionally get something really special like this.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
I don’t recall any Doctor Who novel ever being afforded the fanfare that The Coming of the Terraphiles has been. Since Virgin started publishing original Doctor Who fiction in 1991, a number of fantastic authors have been given their first break writing for Who, and thereafter have gone on to accomplish wonderful things. But never before has a name from the bestseller lists been brought into the fold, a ready made-draw.
As one of the world’s most respected peddlers of science fiction, Michael Moorcock has been afforded a much larger word count than is common in a new series tie-in novel, and the range’s typically obvious artwork has been forsaken in favour of an altogether subtler crimson dust jacket that, were it not for the prevailing Doctor Who logo and insignia, one might easily mistake for a “proper book”. Indeed, this is a release that has been carefully marketed to set it apart from the continuing young adult range. As distasteful as the term “proper book” may be, the overriding feeling amongst those that have read The Coming of the Terraphiles seems to be that it is a work of real weight and consequence; one built to last, rather than please a few kids for a few hours.
Although I read quite widely, I’m not generally a fan of science fiction beyond that tied in to the various television series and movie franchises that I’m obsessed with, and so despite having more than eighty works of fiction and almost as many awards to his name, I’ve never tackled a Moorcock story before; short, long or otherwise. For me, then, this book is not just The Coming of the Terraphiles, a heavily-hyped Who tie-in – it’s Pirates of the Second Aether, my first bona fide Moorcock novel. I may not be able comment on the elements of Moorcock’s multiverse that cross over into the Whoniverse that I know so very well, beyond those that have been pointed out to me, nevertheless this book is a window into a rich and cavernous world; one that’s clearly been many years in the making and is as dimensionally-transcendental as any time machine.
However, the first thing that I fell in love with here wasn’t the depth or the splendour, but the good-old fashioned English. I’m all for the fancy and the florid, and Moorcock’s peerless prose manages to teeter on the verge of poetic yet remain incredibly descriptive. And it’s not just the words that he chooses, it’s the manner in which he describes – at one point a female character spins on a heel that seemed “specifically designed for the manoeuvre”, for instance. It’s just beautiful. Most impressive of all though is the literal interpretation of the uninterpretable. The events of this tale see realities pressed against one other; possible futures, presents and pasts flowing around and through our heroes, the words on the page fluctuating as they slip from one reality in the next. Now and now colliding in words.
The narrative itself strikes a lovely balance between fear and frivolity. It has such epic scope, and the stakes are so incredibly high, yet the tone is generally lighthearted; often downright comic. The titular Terraphiles are amiable and amusing in equal measure. In the very distant future, with all knowledge of humanity’s past having been lost to the tides of time, those obsessed with the departed Earth and its pastimes seek to re-enact them. Hilarious blunder follows hilarious blunder as Moorcock revels in Wodehousian pastiche. Characters borrow their names from legends, and their nicknames from the pages of Jeeves, whilst plot threads revolve around the destruction of all creation – and the theft of an aristocrat’s hat. The Doctor and Amy embark on a quest for the “Arrer of Law”, locking horns with multiversal miscreants who sound like they belong to the 1980s pop circuit (Freddie Force and the Anti-Matter Men) on the way, while the Judoon crack nuts, drink beer and sing mucky songs with as much gusto as if they were a university rugby team. It’s just the sort of thing that you’d expect from a man with an eccentric bow-tie and proud, flourishing beard – possibly even a little madder.
One thing that I was most anxious to see was how Moorcock would handle the Doctor and Amy. Not only had Moorcock never written any Doctor Who before, but he was writing for a Doctor and companion team that, when he started, he’d probably never even seen on the telly. Now - bearing in mind that this is the first eleventh Doctor novel that I’ve read - I was pleasantly surprised with the characterisation. Moorcock does a sterling job of capturing Matt Smith’s unique brand of peculiarity, nailing many of his mannerisms, a few of his stock phrases - howzat? – and even having him use his trademark bow-tie as a prop in a science lecture. Better still, Moorcock really gets across the magnitude of Smith’s performances – those cold moments where the Doctor is suddenly the most important man in creation, and probably the most dangerous too. Moorcock’s Doctor is more than just a Time Lord; he’s a force of nature, more a part of Time than someone with mastery over it. I love that.
Amy is, some ways, even more interesting. Again, I had no problems in believing that this Amy is the same fiery Scots redhead that I’ve been watching on television but as she isn’t cast in a typical role, it’s easy to see why some have found the rendering a little discordant. Compare The Coming of the Terraphiles to any Series 5 story and note the difference – this is the deep end. Amy isn’t back in time, on futuristic space ship or even in a cavern full of lethal statues – she’s adrift in a surreal and magnificent space opera that blows away anything that she’s seen before, and as if that weren’t enough, she’s drowning in an infinity of possible wases, ises and will bes. One minute she’s Amy Pond, adventuress in space and time, and the next she’s on the front lines in the contemporary Middle East.
This, in many ways, sums up all my feelings about the book. Rather than present its readers with instant sunshine, it makes them work; makes them think. I’d even go so far as to state that it has something to say. I won’t spoil the ending, save for to say that it’s truly masterful – it has a moral to it which pulls the ostensibly asinine tomfoolery of the story into sharp focus, living up to its ‘adult’ billing without having to resort to swearing or shagging. For that alone, it should be applauded.
Inevitably, the prospect of two cult universes colliding was always going to divide opinion. Had it not, Moorcock wouldn’t have been doing his job right. He was brought in to put an indelible Moorcock stamp on the Whoniverse, and set the standard for any future releases of this type, and I certainly don’t think that he could have acquitted himself any better than he has done. Is The Coming of the Terraphiles the greatest Who novel ever written? Not in my view. Probably not even close. But it is unique, and it is provocative, and like its author’s bow-tie, it’s incredibly cool. If BBC Books want to improve on this little gem, they’re gonna have to wheel out good old JK.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Moorcock’s portrayal of Amy suggests as late a placement as possible during Series 5. We have therefore placed this novel in between the television episodes The Lodger and The Pandorica Opens.
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