THIS STORY TAKES
place BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE SPACE
PIRATES" AND "THE
RELEASED IN MAY 1995.
A nameless city on a
sodden planet. The
ruling Knights of
Kuabris strive to keep
order as hideous
from the sewers to
attack the populace.
It seems that there
might be some truth in
the prophecies after
I can’t quite make up my mind about this one. On the whole though, I think that I enjoyed it. The flaws in the plot and the strange pacing of the book do threaten to over-shadow the more enjoyable parts of the story, which is a great pity as when it’s good, The Menagerie is really good. The problem is that when it’s bad, it’s absolutely terrible!
What’s so terrible, then? For one, the Mecrim. Talk about over-hyped monsters! They are literally just standard-fare monsters; there is absolutely nothing to them. Author Martin Day spends half the book building up the suspense, explaining about how four races all live underneath the planet’s surface. The first three we see quite a lot of throughout, and they are all fascinating little cultures, yet the one that gets all the build-up is about as dull as you can get! Fair enough, in a movie (or perhaps even in a 1969 monochrome Doctor Who serial) a bunch of savage, ravenous beasts on the loose may have made for a decent finale, but in a novel they flop utterly. As a result the last few chapters are a huge let down.
Day also comes up with some brilliant, intriguing ideas – and then leaves them largely unexplored. Having a world where science is forbidden is a wonderful setting for a story like this, but how this strange set-up evolved is only touched upon ever so briefly right at the very end. Similarly, the experiments of Doctor Jenn Alforge really give the novel one hell-of a kick-start… only to be forgotten. The author gives us the odd ‘memorandum’ from her here and there if he needs to shed light on some aspect of the plot, and that’s about it from Jenn.
The good, then? Well lots, fortunately. Knights! Castles! Homunculi! A medieval society developing on the ruins of a more advanced one. It’s textbook Doctor Who for the most
part. I also found it incredibly refreshing to read a second Doctor novel – Virgin certainly
took their time in getting around to publishing a Missing Adventure from the Patrick Troughton era. The Menagerie feels like a story torn straight out of season six, but (and it is a big BUT) in parts it is written in a very New Adventures sort of style. For instance, it has a lot of quite adult content. There is very nearly an outright sex scene early on, and Jamie (who is normally content to either just give ladies the eye, or threaten to put them over his knee for a spanking) spends three days doing you-know-what with Kaquaan (a bald prostitute) at the end of the novel! Now I am a big fan of the New Adventures style of storytelling, and even in this novel, in this context, it does work a treat… yet, somehow, deep down, it just doesn’t
feel right to have prostitutes and shagging in what is supposed to be an old black and white Doctor Who!
It is not only Jamie who comes across as more of a rounded character, though. The medium allows the author to explore Zoe’s character in much more depth, showing us what goes on behind that smug-little-know-all exterior and, if anything, she comes across as more sympathetic as a result. This probably has a lot to do with the humiliation she has to endure over the course of the book (being sold into slavery, getting a job in a freak show…), but even so, after reading The Menagerie I felt that I knew her character far better than I did beforehand. As for the Doctor himself… Well, it is hard to read a second Doctor story, especially when you are so used to seeing all those little Troughton-isms on screen. Who can capture facial expressions like that? Not Day, that’s for sure.
At the end of the day, The Menagerie is a completely mixed bag. Completely. If it were not associated with Doctor Who, then I am sure that this book would be just another slice of pulp fiction, long out of print and forgotten. Nevertheless, it is still worth reading if you have the time; I just would not make it a priority!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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