Trial of a Timelord
So Vile a Sin
|ISBN#||0 426 20490 5|
|Synopsis: In the aftermath of the previous adventure, the Doctor and Chris try to find some peace in 1950's Soho. But a race who can be anything you want them to be forms a bizarre link to a planet, where the Doctor discovers his past is waiting to catch up with him.|
A Review by Shaun Lyon 16/9/99
I've a number of things to say about this book, but I had to give it a few days to think about it before I set pen to paper (or, in this day and age, finger to keyboard). Bad Therapy was quite a jumble: an ordinary action-adventure-mystery combined with a psychological thriller, a parable about tolerance and a subplot which didn't quite belong there thrown in for good measure. It was a good read, most certainly, but still left me a bit cold.
Bad Therapy is the type of novel where the villain is one of the least important parts of the puzzle, and is already outlined by the time you get to, say, chapter four. What is more important, usually, is the impetus behind the villain... why the villain is doing what he or she is doing. Not so in this novel. Instead, the focal point of the book is the fallout from the villain's handiwork, to the point where the villain -- a man called Moriah, the "man god of Kron'Tep" -- becomes almost an afterthought, and appears in what should have been the end of the book. Unfortunately, in one of the only truly negative things I can say about this novel, Bad Therapy ends about forty pages too late; it almost feels like one of those cliched second-endings tacked on at the end to pad things out into a real adventure. Doesn't quite work.
Clever readers will have already picked up a side plot in my review. That's right... Kron'Tep. At long last, Doctor Who fans are given an alternative ending to the saga of Peri Brown and Yrcanos -- no longer was the bumbling American botany student forced to stay with Yrcanos on Earth and endure life as the wife of a champion boxer (probably one of the most ridiculous endings ever for a Doctor Who novelization, and you can thank author Philip Martin for that one!) Instead, Peri -- now called Queen Gilliam by her subjects -- has spent the past 25 years in the company of a man she does not love, forcibly remaining his queen on Kron'Tep while spending her time dabbling in archaeology. Yes, yet again we discover a companion who has suffered through separation from and abandonment from an uncaring Doctor. One wonders how this guy ever kept any friends.
Anyway, Peri has uncovered something on Kron'Tep, ruins that lead her to discover that a long-held secret concerning Moriah and Petruska (let's just say they're to Kron'Tep what Antony and Cleopatra are to Egypt, and leave it at that), a secret that eventually brings her to Earth in the 1950's to meet with the Doctor. Here we have one hell of a coincidence, which is cleared up in one very unconvincing scene. Author Jones should have cut this entire subplot out of the book, left Peri where she was, and cut off the last 40 pages, and I'd call this a classic.
That's enough of the bad. The good is the stuff that begins when the Doctor and Chris, fresh from their adventures in the 30th Century in So Vile A Sin The Doctor is immediately thrust into an adventure when he discovers a dying boy who doesn't seem to have any identity. This leads him and Chris into a liaison with a group of social misfits who hang out at an underground club called the Tropics. This is perhaps the strongest part of this novel, and indeed one of the strongest parts of any of the New Adventures thus written: while other novelists have worked into play a gay character here or there (stemming from the fact that a large percentage of the authors of the Virgin books seem to be of this persuasion), Jones has created a very strong character in young Jack Bartlett, the post-teen lover of the boy who died, and who has lived under the thumb of blackmail by a gangster who has threatened to expose his sexual orientation to an uncaring world. (This book takes place, of course, before the Stonewall riots of the 1960's, which marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement.) Jack is soft but strong, and one of the most compelling characters in recent New Adventures memory; indeed, Gilliam asks him toward the end of the book if he's the Doctor's latest traveling companion (and he seemed ready-made to follow in Roz's footsteps), but Jack instead stays behind.
What is really going on makes for interesting reading, but it gets a little confusing when the reader begins to wonder who is real and who isn't. Tilda (the head of the Tropics club), Patsy (Chris' would-be lover), Eddy Stone (Jack's dead boyfriend), the mysterious Major, and young Dennis (a dark-skinned boy) are all Toys, creations of Moriah, protoplasmic constructs that mold themselves to be the ideal companions of those who they come into contact with; Patsy is the perfect mate for Chris, Eddy and Jack are perfectly matched, Dennis fits well with older Mikey who is looking for a little-brother, and so forth. I could get into the why's of the story, but that would ruin the most important bits. (Although, as an aside to Mr. Jones, you're not fooling anyone. If you're going to rip off "Absolutely Fabulous," -- Patsy and Eddy indeed -- there are more subtler ways of disguising it.)
Yes, it's confusing. I've found that it sorts out much better in print than in review, so you'll have to read it for yourself. Bad Therapy is a good novel (again, it could have been 40 pages lighter and the Peri bits clipped out) and says some very important things about the nature of relationships. It might offend the few readers who cannot stomach the idea of gay relationships and such; that's their unfortunate loss. But Bad Therapy is written well and stands on its own as a very atypical Doctor Who adventure.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 21/9/99
I found it interesting, considering the plot of Bad Therapy, how much this book depended on So Vile a Sin. This is the emotional aftermath of that book, dealing with the Doctor and Chris' feelings of grief and loss following the death of Roz. Therefore, reading it before SVAS is very much like effect before cause. The deep emotion hasn't hit me yet, and it won't till April. Ah, well.
Despite that, Bad Therapy is an excellent book, with several intriguing viewpoints. Another book that, although they might say otherwise, wouldn't have gotten past Submission 1 if it were a BBCNA.
Plot: Nicely tying in with SVAS, and the 6th Doctor story Mindwarp, the plot is about emotion, about Moriah creating the Toys through guilt, and the Doctor forced to confront his own tormented feelings for both Roz and Peri. Roz is dead, but her presence permeates the book, especially in the relationship between Chris and Patsy. A couple of odd things, maybe others could answer them. How did Moriah live for thousands of years, anyway? And was the balck cab really necessary, or was it just a Hammer Horror touch. I mean, you could just have abducted them normally.
The Doctor: Downbeat and mortal, this is a Doctor who has lost the battle one too many times. The best line of the book is when he asks Peri why he is the only one who cares if an entire species survives. Too often the Doctor puts the needs of the many in front of the needs of the few, and here he begins to wonder why everyone questions this. This Doctor, more human than we've ever seen him and yet still an alien, is the beginning of the transition to Paul McGann.
Chris: Chris has always been outward in all his feelings, and this comes to a head in his bonding with Patsy, and you wonder at the end whether he did create her through his grief. Better written than most authors write Chris, but again, a lot depends on SVAS.
Gilliam: Oh, boy, another alternate ending of the Peri story. Still, if you were to choose between this and Peri as Yrcanos' manager in wrestling matches, I'd go with this one. Her pain doesn't just go away, and it is only the knowledge that this Doctor is so different from the one she knew that enables her to begin to forgive him. I would have liked to see a resolution with Yrcanos, though.
Others: Tilda, Jack, and Patsy shine, but the others are too vague to be memorable. Moriah is an average dolally villain.
Style: Very similar to Human Nature, with its feelings right on the surface, and the chance of a brief respite being dashed. Still, I didn't notice any grevious problems with the writing.
Overall: Still incomplete till April and SVAS, but eminently readable in its own right, Bad Therapy is a very nice book to read at the holiday season, when emotions tend to roil anyway.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 29/4/04
If you're not familiar with "Mystery Science Theater 3000", then you should be. It's the show where a guy and two robots are forced to watch incredibly awful movies, staying sane by constantly heckling the badness. Watching this series gives one an insight into a broad spectrum of horrible filmmaking. One of my favorite episodes is The Creeping Terror. During the production of this motion picture experience, they accidentally dropped the sound equipment into a lake, rendering them with no means of recording vocals on location. Rather than taking this as a Devine Hint To Stop Making A Bad Film, they decided to continue anyway. To fill in the obvious shortcomings of a film in which half of the dialog was not recorded, the final product features a narrator who constantly explains what's going on in front of us -- the most amusing examples being the scenes where the Voice Of The Director informs us about the conversation between two silent, mouthing people.
Why am I blathering on about MST3k in a review that's supposed to focus on Bad Therapy? Because I think I've found the prose equivalent to The Voice Of The Director Telling Stuff We Should Be Able To See For Ourselves. The prose is, frankly, bizarre. While the strangeness mostly stops before the book's second half, the first portion is full of examples of this weird storytelling convention. Characters are conversing, the narrator interrupts, summarizing large chunks of the conversation, and then dumps us back into dialog. They're the weirdest violations of the "show, don't tell" rule that I can recall.
As I said, thankfully, this stops at the midway point of the novel. But the rest of the book isn't very good either. It's a story set in London of the 1950s. This was a very bigoted time and place. How do I know? Because the book keeps telling me so. It occasionally attempts to show me the negative side of this setting, but never approaches authenticity. At times it felt it was retreading some of the ground covered by Russell T. Davies in his far superior Damaged Goods, but such comparisons are almost insulting. While Davies had me completely believing in his characters, Jones presented me with clichs and stereotypes.
I did like a few things about the book. The "bloodthirsty driverless cab" is actually a creepy bit of writing. The atmosphere is occasionally effective. The problem is that there's little else to wrap these good portions in. The storyline meanders all over the place, and there's a false ending a good fifty pages before the book finally ends. The plot feels very forced; characters must act bizarrely in order for the story to continue, and one wonders why the Doctor doesn't just save the day when he has the chance (because the book hasn't finished yet, obviously). There are scenes that just seem needless in hindsight. Yes, having Cwej randomly dream about the Doctor's forthcoming regeneration may have seemed interesting at the time, but why is it here? What does it add to anything?
The Doctor and Chris are awkwardly separated, apparently for no reason other than to have the Doctor spend time with the annoying Mary Sue-like character. I kept asking myself, "Who the hell is this Jack character, and why the hell should I care?" (Disclaimer: I have no idea whether Jack really is a Mary Sue creation, since I know absolutely nothing about the author. But it overwhelmingly felt like one, and even if that impression is far from the truth, the important thing is that I kept getting distracted by that feeling.) Granted, he's not as irritating as the students in Jones' Beyond the Sun, but if you're going to have a story that heavily revolves around its characters, make sure that they exist in more than one dimension.
Speaking of character issues, this book received praise for dealing with the aftermath of Roz Forrester's death, which is flattery that frankly surprises me; I felt the book's handling of Chris and the Doctor's grief was fundamentally wrong. When people are in mourning, what is one of the most common ways they have of coping? They distract themselves; they stay busy so that they don't have to think about it. And, in the short-term, that works. When you're busying yourself, you can escape your grief because you simply ignore it. But that's not the way grief works here. Here, it's the quiet moments when the characters don't find themselves thinking about Roz, and the loud, busy, adrenaline-packed moments when they do. Take the sequence with Chris on the train. There's a whole series of quiet times leading up to this when he doesn't think about Roz even though there's nothing keeping her out of his mind. It's the moment he's engaged in hand-to-hand combat with some alien monster that he can't shake Roz out of his head. I realize that we can't pick when a recently deceased loved one will jump back into our thoughts, but doesn't that strike anyone as being backwards? Again, while this is something that appears to correct itself towards the end, it's a flaw that quite annoyed me during the opening and middle.
Bad Therapy is a book with a grand reputation, and I struggle to understand why. It puts all of its eggs in a small number of baskets, and if you accept those baskets, presumably you enjoy the novel as a whole. Readers who somehow see something worthy in these characters and in their story will no doubt have a higher opinion. But for me, those conveyances were sadly lacking in depth and in maturity. Bad Therapy is a book trying to deal with tough issues and important topics, but it just doesn't seem to know how. It lacks authenticity and believability; in a novel trying to be Deep, these are fatal failings. Oh, and the bits with the Returning, Bitter Ex-Companion were nonsense too.
A Review by Finn Clark 12/2/05
You know, I rather enjoyed that. Bad Therapy has a fairly modest story, but I didn't mind that too much given its character-based focus. Give me a book that stays true to itself instead of one which crams in unwanted doomsday devices, deadly countdowns and alien space fleets.
Most obviously, this is one of the two important gay Doctor Who books. We've seen many gay authors and gay characters in the novels, but unlike all the others Bad Therapy and Damaged Goods are built around their sexuality. You couldn't simply snip the homosexuality from their plots without massacring the novels in question. It's only one element in both books, naturally, but it's integral. These aren't just token gays, but people at the heart of a story of an author with things to say... in this case, about Britain's treatment of homosexuality in the 1950s (not least the fact that it was illegal, though I feel a little silly having to say that in case someone reading this didn't know already).
I like the characters, but less so the resolutions of their stories. The Chris-Patsy relationship had some fascinating ideas underneath it... but unfortunately it gets cut short in a lazy, convenient fashion. That's a shame, since I'd have loved to see where that ended up. Chris and Peri (yes, Peri) get stroppy with the Doctor, each for their own reasons, but at the end of the day it's just the Virgin equivalent of TARDIS bitch scenes. It doesn't really go anywhere.
Nevertheless I still like the characters. Tilda Jupp (aka. Mother) makes an instant impact and I was really interested in the Toys. The bad guys are considerably blander, but even they get a human side and thematic development. Jack Bartlett feels like a Mary-Sue, but an inoffensive and sympathetic one. There are also startling bits of imagery... I'm thinking of the man-eating cab and its Tex Avery physicality, then later the Doctor creeping through the room of murdered Toys. Those impressed me too.
I had mixed reactions to the book's regulars. Chris Cwej fares the best, even if he's mostly confined to his own little B-plot. Admittedly Matthew Jones was fortunate to write the book that followed So Vile A Sin, but he makes the most of his luck. Newly bereaved and still grieving for Roz, Chris is wide open for what Tilda Jupp throws his way. There's good stuff here.
The Doctor didn't impress me quite as much. Fifty-six NAs down the line and with the TVM looming like the spectre of death (even acknowledged in a dream sequence), this 7th Doctor somehow feels as if he's pushing his sell-by date. Maybe it's deliberate? He's vaguely entertaining and never actually bad, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.
Peri is the least satisfactory element. Yet another fucked-up ex-companion, that's what the books needed! Not. It doesn't help that Peri's post-TV adventures have made her timeline more complicated than Mel's and possibly even worse than Ace's. Bad Therapy comes dangerously close to contradicting Colin Baker's The Age of Chaos, though perhaps she eventually got over her mid-life crisis and returned to her children on Krontep. Maybe. If it came to a choice between Colin Baker and Matthew Jones, I know who I'd choose. However in fairness to Bad Therapy, this reread showed this post-Mindwarp Peri to be less miserable and bitter than I remembered... she still dragged down the book, but less than I expected.
Amusingly she has a pure New York accent on p223. Future generations may yet take this as a not-so-subtle indication that the real Peri stayed on Krontep all along and that Bad Therapy only starred her evil twin.
Overall, this is a well-meaning, earnest book with solid themes and convincing prose. It has a new and fascinating race of monsters in the Toys, whom I really liked and wanted to see come good. It struggles to evoke the 1950s (as have all Doctor Who books set in that period, to be honest), but it does quite well at capturing the claustrophobic attitudes and mindsets. Its use of the regulars is a mixed bag, but I'd recommend it for Chris's story. Above all, I liked its characters and wanted to see what would happen to them. Not at all bad.
"...and collided with a strange and beautiful thing." by Hugh Sturgess 14/3/15
Tucked in the revolving book-stand in the middle of Balmain Library, the young adult section, sat a battered paperback. It had what I was looking for - the words 'Doctor Who' printed on it. I recognised the logo - McCoy's - but it was strange, eerie, a ghostly half-logo in outline. And the title - Bad Therapy - was certainly a far cry from Remembrance of the Daleks or The Curse of Fenric. It felt mysterious, spooky, its pages brown, their corners worn into curves and its shiny black cover broken up by innumerable tiny capillary-like cracks. The image on the cover showed a balding man dead on the ground, his blood splattered across the ferns. Beside him squatted a man in uniform, carrying a bloodied spear and with no face. It looked like a nightmare, a surrealistic painting. That image has stayed with me ever since, as if I'm haunted by those empty eye sockets.
It was 2001, and I read my first New Adventure.
Bad Therapy is not the best of Virgin's New Adventures. So many of the other NAs that I've read in the decade and more since are superior in plotting, character, prose and ideas. Nor is it one of the worst, certainly not. What it is, is the most seminal New Adventure imaginable. It is the Platonic form of the NAs. NAs delighted in adopting different genres, dressing up in them, as Matt Jones himself wrote in a retrospective in DWM, to tell funny, tragic or courageous stories. Hard sci-fi, fantasy, gangster crime, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond. Bad Therapy's chosen genre is the New Adventures themselves. It doesn't merely embrace the clichés of the form, it rejoices in them. The TARDIS crew, haunted by a previous adventure, split up and meet characters who would never have appeared in the TV show, for a creepy/violent tale that involves an embittered ex-companion, a dreamscape (Chris's vision of the eighth Doctor) and a few Doctor/companion rows over the Doctor's morality (what Finn Clark memorably calls the Virgin equivalent of TARDIS bitch-scenes). Bad Therapy came out at the end of the NA run, and there is the unmistakable air of an author who came of age reading them (Jones was in his twenties). This is the NAs' Last of the Gadarene.
Bad Therapy was my first NA and I loved it like a teenager with a crush. I'm not sure I understood it the first time around - being ten will do that to you - but I reread it again and again. It wasn't because it was the only NA I knew of; I had The Death of Art and sundry BBC novels, and Return of the Living Dad made the occasional spectral appearance at the library. Bad Therapy was different. It has lingered, like a dream, in my mind ever since. An innocent boy murdered because his escape was blocked by the TARDIS, the series' place of sanctuary. The Doctor wrestling a faceless creature in a room filled with corpses. The Doctor hiding under a bed from a blackmailer. A silver spear flashing in the night.
Today, I'm certainly not blind to its flaws. Its prose is very, very awkward. The narration slips from directly transcribing the dialogue to merely summarising it without warning or pattern. There are moments of clunky obviousness, in which characters think aloud how the Doctor has talked them into doing something (the NA equivalent of Terrance Dicks's old standby, "such was the authority in his voice that s/he actually waited") or how unfair society is or how awful something is or something else that should have been left unsaid.
Too much time is devoted to describing the Doctor's antics (another NA convention), like the ludicrously over-complicated and unnecessary diversion he creates with an exploding chicken (!) when he first meets Jack Bartlett, or the even more laboured gag of throwing away a book while pocketing an apple core (the slight humour is killed by the characters awkwardly discussing it for a page). Twice by my count characters are sent flying into walls by Moriah's super-punches, only to pick themselves up without too much damage done - no, they're dead. The subplot with Billy Spot is simply padding, as is the inexplicable decision to travel to the Institute by sports car rather than TARDIS (an option that is raised, making it obvious). The resolution is one half sci-fi technobabble and one-half random coincidence for which none of the characters can take the credit. Peri returns to haunt the Doctor, but her relationship to the plot is arbitrary (the villain, Moriah, is the first king of Yrcanos's planet Krontep, here rendered K'ron Tep in another Virginian flourish) and her relationship to the novel's themes far from clear. And making Doctor Who responsible for the Notting Hill riots is a little crass.
But this is, as the back cover says, Matthew Jones's first novel. It was bound to be a bit ropey in places. And, hey, this is a Doctor Who novel, not Nabokov. The prose of the best Who novels is sublime (a plug for my review of The Blue Angel goes here), but most of it is functional. Jones has the solid intuition to keep it small-scale, providing no universe-threatening cataclysms as other immature writers are tempted to do. There are striking images, like the "bloodthirsty driverless cab" and the Doctor tentatively making his way through a "human swamp" of murdered Toys. He displays signs of a knack for understatement, for instance giving Inspector Harris the thought to wonder when he and his wife stopped kissing on the lips. It subtly evokes a character without sledgehammering us. Furthermore, the novel's epilogue, which looks a lot like an attempt to do a Cornell, ends on a description of Jack Bartlett first meeting Eddy Stone, "a strange and beautiful thing". I think it's a wonderful ending and a wonderful phrase. It seems to capture so much in its simplicity. Strange - queer, fay (that is, fairy), fey (that is, doomed to die).
Perhaps part of my response to Bad Therapy came from its relationship to my own development. Despite being written by a 29-year-old, it feels like a very teenaged book. To ten-year-old me, Jack and Eddy's love was something strange and beautiful, but it was a strangeness I recognised. When you're ten, no one talks about that. Bad Therapy was speaking a language I had never heard yet understood anyway. Jack colliding with Eddy in the library. The Doctor finding a bodybuilding mag under Jack's bed. "A strange and beautiful thing." This spoke to me in ways I wouldn't realise until later. This was important to me. It was part of the reason I reread it so many times. It felt like a secret. My secret.
Jack Bartlett's story is uncomfortable, agonising and heart-breaking. His anguish at Eddy's murder is made all the more painful by being unable to mourn openly. The novel teases us unsubtly with the possibility that Eddy, as one of Moriah's Toys, could be recreated out of one of the blank slabs in the Institute using Jack's memories. But Jack rejects this. There is, as a result, no resolution to his story. In the 1980s section of the epilogue, we learn what happened to Mikey's brother Dennis (a bit part), but not Jack, the primary original protagonist. Does he live a good life? Does he fall in love with someone else? While it is attempting a Cornell-style ending, it is also utterly subverting it. Cornell ends his books with everything in their place, while this studiously leaves all the toys out of the box where it found them. I was invested in Jack's grief throughout the novel, and no resolution, either good or bad, means that there is no catharsis, leaving behind a nagging anguish that the modest optimism of the book cannot dispel. The only solace the novel seems to offer is that it happened and the value of that is not diminished by Eddy's death. It's a strikingly bleak ending, actually. When love has to be hidden, there can never be an airing of grief to resolve it.
Both Finn Clark and Andrew McCaffrey call Jack a Mary Sue. To put it simply, they are using the term incorrectly. A Mary Sue is often conflated with an author-surrogate - a character who is based biographically or temperamentally on the author - but a Mary Sue is a very specific form of surrogate. A Sue is a vehicle for the self-actualisation of the author, not resembling the author but rather who the author would like to be - smart, talented, attractive, charming, important, popular. Thus "Mary Sue" describes a perfect character taken to represent the author's own desires who outshines everyone else in the story and whom everyone loves for their brilliance and precociousness. Mary Sues are disliked by audiences because they are one-dimensional vehicles for wish-fulfilment who make the regular characters (since Mary Sues have to be inserted into existing narratives, a la fan fiction, otherwise James Bond becomes a Mary Sue) supporting players in their own stories. Jack does one or two heroic things but mainly spends the book in awe of the Doctor. I think that Jones is drawing on his own experience in writing Jack, but this is a silly objection to make. Whenever someone criticises a character for being an author-surrogate, I get the feeling that the real problem to them is that certain, illegitimate people should not be writing. All authors, all the way up to Shakespeare, put part of themselves in their characters. Furthermore, there are a lot of people other than Matt Jones who can see part of themselves in Jack Bartlett.
The lack of resolution to Jack's story is clearly intended, since it is shared by all the novel's other subplots. In three of the four strands of the story (all but "Gilliam's"), the protagonists have lost someone dear to them - Roz, Eddy, Petruska - and they are all offered a way to bring them back. The goodies reject that chance, while Moriah's evil deeds stem from his refusal to accept that an accurate recreation of his beloved would be a woman terrified of the man who drove her to suicide. Yet there is never catharsis. The novel attempts to build and maintain the emotional anguish of its characters - the Doctor, Chris, Jack, Moriah and even Peri (but she is a special case) - but there is no pay-off, no emotional climax in which we the readers are purged of our heart-ache. Tilda states in the quote chosen to grace the back cover that the Toys cannot exist without a human to bond with, but, in what feels like a deliberate slap at resolution, it turns out that she, as the only unbonded Toy, shows that this is not true. Jack farewells Eddy's memory at the party, but this is immediately followed by the plot restarting after an odd lull, and the novel ends with the beginning of Jack and Eddy's relationship. The issues have not been resolved. What we have left is nostalgia - the pain of returning.
What could the novel's purpose be in denying us catharsis? Bertolt Brecht viewed catharsis as an infantilising opiate that prevented the audience from enacting real social change by allowing them to achieve their emotional needs vicariously. One can certainly see how a Cornellian "everything ends up where it should be" ending leaves the reader sated and thus unlikely to be motivated to address the structural injustices of society. It is not hard to think that a book that wears its heart on its sleeve as Bad Therapy does is not consciously aiming to subvert the soporific effect of catharsis. The social concerns this novel deals with are real and serious - discrimination and oppression, whether sexual, gender or racial, from homophobia to racism to male violence towards women - and they will not be solved by reading a book. Surely the title - Bad Therapy - is significant here, since catharsis views the audience, as it were, as patients in need of mental healing. Denying us catharsis encourages us to address real social injustices.
This gives us the key to unlock Bad Therapy's greatest mystery: why is Peri in this story? If one described the plot, Peri is not the companion one would think of including in it. The novel is weirdly coy about naming her, referring to her in all but one instance as "Gilliam", though anyone reading the NAs in 1997 would have recognised the reference to Krontep and Yrcanos. Furthermore, Peri's emotional storyline fails to match the others. Peri was screwed over more than any other Doctor Who companion. Accepting an invitation to travel with the "sweet" fifth Doctor, she instead found herself put through a series of nightmarish bloodbaths with only a dangerously unhinged circus clown for company, of whom she was clearly terrified. She was an object for the male gaze of every megalomaniacal pervert in the known universe, tortured mentally and physically for their (and, implicitly, our) enjoyment. And she was abandoned by the Doctor and the series to be forcibly married to an abusive warlord whom she didn't love.
If any former companion has the right to resent the Doctor, it's Peri. But this does not mirror the clear pattern of the other subplots. Peri has not lost a loved one and is offered the chance to regain them. She feels like yet another gratuitous returning-character-with-a-grudge gimmick from the New Adventures. But it does fit into the pattern of denying catharsis. Peri and the Doctor never have their crucial heart-to-heart in which their differences are resolved, or at least aired. All her legitimate grievances against the Doctor that existed at the beginning exist at the end. His explanation for why he never went back for her - that he forgot, basically - is pathetic. If any former companion has the right to resent the Doctor, it's Peri - but, in the end, she does not. She decides to move on to do other things. She refuses to allow her anger at the Doctor to be an excuse for inaction. She acts out the decision to pursue material social progress in lieu of fictional catharsis. This is beginning to seriously look like a message.
So, Bad Therapy is Brechtian agit-prop that is deliberately unsatisfying so as to encourage real social action. I wasn't expecting that when I started this review.
But to ten-year-old, it was just strange and terrifying. It was a glimpse into another world, an alien world into which the Doctor I knew had been thrust. It was a liberating experience, and I have retained a suppressed reverence for the Virgin New Adventures ever since. It helped me realise that there was something different about me too. The heartache I felt for Jack was more than simply sympathy, but recognition. This lovely, flawed little book began my own private unresolved tension of puberty. Almost fifteen years ago and also only yesterday, an awkward boy picked up a book and collided with a strange and beautiful thing.