Blood and Hope
1-903889-28-6 (standard hardback)|
1-903889-29-4 (deluxe hardback)
|Featuring||The fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem.|
A Review by Finn Clark 3/3/04
Best. Telos. Novella. Ever. (In my opinion.)
Until now I hadn't been blown away by a Telos novella. I could see the quality in something like Fallen Gods or The Cabinet of Light, but I didn't always connect with them emotionally. 'Twas like being fed a spoonful of the most carefully prepared haute cuisine, but afterwards still being hungry. And then certain other novellas hadn't worked for me at all. However I loved Blood and Hope.
In some senses it's a fairly traditional story, albeit presented in an epistolary form. For starters it's an American Civil War historical written by a Brit, which could have been toe-curling but succeeded beyond all my expectations. Part of it's the TARDIS crew. Historicals have been attempted with several post-Hartnell Doctors by now, but the vulnerability and understated realism of Davison's character works better than most in an authentic setting like this. I suspect the other Doctors are too larger-than-life to fit so comfortably into the template of Doctor Who's early years. Should you wish to test this thesis, check out the novel-length Colin Baker Find Your Fate adventure book set in the same historical period (Doctor Who and the Rebel's Gamble, by William H. Keith, Jr), published by FASA in 1986. It's a worthy attempt, but it's not the same.
Peri and Eminem are perfect, too. Peri is great because she's an ordinary American in a period she knows from her schoolbooks, which may sound like a rather predictable reader hook but actually works like a charm. She's plugged into what's going around her. It has meaning for her. What's more, she knows something about it (but not everything) and so can clue in the reader naturally as she shepherds Embryem through the dangers that beset them.
Ah yes. Elbumen: the Egyptian Pharoah who's apparently travelling with the 5th Doctor in Big Finish audios. This sounded like stunt casting when we all heard about it (having flashbacks to Instruments of Darkness), but it's totally justified. She's slightly Leela-like in her unfamiliarity with the modern world and much more that we'd take for granted, but more fundamentally she's a coloured teenager in the Confederate States in 1865. Simple, yes, but it makes for a powerful story.
Incidentally, this is the first time we've seen Peri travelling with another female companion. Her time in the TARDIS was male-dominated, whether we're talking about her one-off meetings with other companions (Turlough, Jamie), the pseudo-companions of the Colin Baker era (Lieutenant Hugo Lang, Commander Lytton, Herbert George Wells) or her only co-companion before now (Frobisher). Having a female friend rather suits her.
In a sense I'm not fully qualified to comment on this novella. I'm eager to see what American readers make of Blood and Hope, but as an Englishman of little acquaintance with the subject matter I found it convincing and moving. (Well, John Ostrander seems to think so in his foreword and since he's a god upon this earth I couldn't even dream of disagreeing.) The epistolary format is used cleverly, allowing Iain McLaughlin to drop in extracts from Abraham Lincoln's speeches, the Declaration of Independence, South Carolina's statement of secession and more alongside the personal letters from his original characters. In a more conventional narrative this might have felt awkward, but here it really brings the history alive.
The novella also avoids certain traps inherent in its chosen format. In my opinion it's easy to lose one's way with an epistolary novel, waffling on with the most self-indulgent kind of first-person narration. Blood and Hope avoids that, instead giving us meaty letters that have plenty to say and get on with doing so. In my opinion it does so better than many non-Who novels I've read that tried the format. Another danger is the risk of distancing; it's easy for second-hand reportage to remove one from the action and make it harder for the reader to care about the story (as happened for some readers with The Adventuress of Henrietta Street). Again no such problem surfaces here. On the contrary, this narrative has power.
This isn't as experimental a novella as some, but it's a sensitive yet energetic portrayal of a turbulent time. Its use of the 5th Doctor will make you wonder why we haven't had more Davison historicals, while Peri and Elbowem are terrific. This Telos novella is well worth its asking price. Heartily recommended.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 10/4/04
I have always been fascinated by American history. At college in my late teens we studied far more about American history than my own English history. Since I have rectified that anomaly, and become fascinated by my own land's history - but American history continues to interest and amaze. The Civil War was always curiously neglected in my formal studies though - the teacher no doubt not as interested in it, hard exam questions and all that. Therefore it was only a couple of months ago, after watching the excellent film Cold Mountain, that I felt it was time to fill this information gap in my life. A few books were bought, and the scope of this magnificent and horrific conflict totally engrossed me.
It was only when I received my latest Telos parcel through the post that I remembered that this was about the very subject I had been so interested in lately. I had completely forgotten about this one, and I had got so far behind in my Telos reading, as to see it very much on the horizon. I started a Telos reading programme - and after a few weeks I had read the previous 5 novellas - now it was time for the one I was really looking forward to. To be honest the last few had been rather average too, but I was sure I would love this one.
It features the 5th Doctor, Peri and Erimem. It's written by Erimem's creator Iain McLaughlin. It deposits the TARDIS crew right near the end of the American Civil War conflict, and through a series of letters and historical documents takes us through the trauma and emotion of this historical period.
The novella gives us many characters that are completely wonderful - and top of this list has to be the Doctor, Peri and Erimem. I have never seen such a more sympathetic and human portrayal of the Doctor in print, than this. The 5th Doctor was always the most human - but here he is the most caring and heroic. I've always suspected it - but it is quite glorious to set it so vividly in print.
The companions fare almost as equally as well. Because of Peri's diary entries we gain an insight into her personality more than any other story I can think of. Her character goes beyond the beautiful woman of the TV series, and into the realms of beautiful individual. I always adored Peri - but I always felt her character has suffered as a result of her looks. That is finally put to rest here. Her sisterly relationship with Erimem has brought out the best in her. She works better here with Erimem and the 5th Doctor than she ever has.
Erimem too has now become a great character in her own right. After a few Big Finish audios, she now has transversed the genre into books. I hope some author out there sees fit to bring this TARDIS crew to more books, because they really work well together. They are quickly becoming one of my favourite TARDIS teams.
The rest of the cast of this novella become familiar to us because of their letters. Will Johnson is the main letter writer, to his beloved back home. His letters form the story, with Peri's diary entries. Through them we are shown how the Civil War divided friends, how it destroyed people, and how the pain of war stays with people. His friendship with Paul is lasting and caring. His relationship with Claire is heartfelt and optimistic. The way the Americans looked to Abraham Lincoln is also clear in this book. The admiration of the masses (unless you are a Southerner) is well described and presented.
The book doesn't really take sides in the Civil War, despite its veneration of Lincoln. The emphasis is on American against American, and the tragedy of that. From what I have read about this war, Iain McLaughlin says things as they were - and his facts are spot on, historically, racially and emotionally. Ironic that he's a Scotsman, but then I'm an Englishman fascinated by American history too - interesting history and fantastic stories can be set anywhere and appeal to many.
You can gather from this review that I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Blood and Hope. I was hoping that Telos would bring us a true classic of Who - Cabinet of Light was close, Blood and Hope achieves it. A totally brilliant, evocative and stunning novella. 10/10