Terror of the Zygons
The Talons of Weng Chiang
|ISBN||0 563 40568 6|
Synopsis: London, 1894 and a series of grave robberies have an unlikely
source. The Doctor and Sam join an old friend to take on some old enemies.
Robbing the Grave of Doctor Who by Robert Smith? 9/9/98
The Bodysnatchers is an odd book. Written by a professional author, one might expect Mark Morris to either misunderstand the concept of DW or deliver something spectacular, ala Steve Moffat's Decalog 3 contribution. The Bodysnatchers is neither, but nor is it particularly good.
There's lots and lots of descriptive prose, which is perhaps fitting, given the setting, although it does tend to bog the reader down in yet more descriptions of London alleyways. The action is straightforward and uncomplicated, which by itself isn't a criticism. However, by the end, the reader is left with the feeling that not much of consequence has really happened. This is embodied perhaps best by Litefoot's appearance, who, although serving as a temporary refuge for the Doctor and Sam, doesn't really appear to have much function within the book other than to say "By Jove" a lot. Yes, he does perform one particular function at the end, but this is so coincidence-ridden and generic (the action could really have been performed by anyone who happened to be there) that it hardly stands out.
There is of course an old enemy lurking under the Thames. I'm not entirely sure what it is when successful authors decide to write for Doctor Who and feel they have to include old characters. Perhaps they think this will satisfy the fans who can't appreciate good storytelling and instead think Doctor Who is all about seeing the same old monsters over and over again? There's an attempt to add depth to the Zygons, but it's almost laughably bad and tries to undo the power of the original.
The Doctor suffers the most in this story (even more than the reader, if that's possible!), being something of a fourth Doctor clone through most of the action. I can see why authors may pick up on the superficial similarities, but the two characters really are different. I'm also not sure whether to be sickened or just depressed about the tired and lacklustre and conincidence-ridden way Morris destroys part of the moral centre of the Doctor's character just so he can have the plot conveniently tie itself up. I can't believe I waded through his prose for this!
On the other hand, Sam comes across reasonably well here. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think the blandness of the book tends to accentuate her character more. She does lapse into a number of strange idioms (especially "Well it weren't no canary") that seem inserted for no other reason than to point out that she really is a Nineties London Teenager(TM). Another possible benefit is that she spends a good portion of the book unconscious so doesn't have as much time to grate on the reader's nerves.
There's also something of a plot hole left over. Namely, the gentleman who met with the bodysnatchers at the beginning disappears and isn't referred to again. I initially thought he was supposed to be Nathaniel Seers, but the book later rules this out. There's an easy enough copout, but I was a bit disappointed that this wasn't mentioned somewhere.
The Bodysnatchers is a real shame. It could have been slightly decent, but at the end of the day I feel that the mischaracterisation, the dreary prose, the rehashing of the past, the gaping plot holes and the awful portrayal of the Doctor are just so overwhelming that I wonder why this book was even commissioned in the first place. There's no forward vision whatsoever in a book that's completely unforgettable and is stuck retreading the past glories of an era it can't possibly hope to be as good as. Not recommended.
A Review by Rueben Herfindahl 6/8/99
This is the first "real" (The Eight Doctors doesn't really count, you never get to know Sam or the Doctor on their own) BBC NA I've finished.
From what I vaguely remember Mark Morris must be a British horror writer. With that vague rememberence I was expecting something rather grim, much to my relief this was not completely the case.
Mr. Morris draws very heavily on the 4th Doctors era for his references. The Zygons are the primary enemy and Professor Litefoot (from Talons) accompanies the Doctor throughout most of the book. The Doctor's characterization also seems very Bakerish, although he keeps you from ever picturing Tom as the Doctor in the story by refering to the Doctor's appearance and certain TV movie traits.
There are some other great little continuity parts thrown in as well. The Doctor is characterized towards the end as hating long goodbyes almost as much as burnt toast and bus stations (Ghost Light) and I really adore the way the Doctor explained to Litefoot that he was simply a member of a secret department where they are all known as The Doctor. Litefoot never gets that he may be the same person as the Tom doc he encountered in Talons.
The story is pretty good. The Doctor is reading the original print of The Final Problem (what was intended to be the last Sherlock Holms story), and accidentally drops it into a candle and a few pages get burnt. He decides to head back to London in 1894 to get himself another copy. In doing so he stumbles across a Zygon plot to exterminate the Human race and repopulate the earth with Zygons. With the help of Sam and Professor Litefoot he works his way through the problem in a very 4th Doctor style, complete with a long chase/running bit ending.
The Baddies: The Zygons are very well done. They are not simply extensions of what we saw in Terror, but their race history is flashed out a bit.
The Good Guys: The Doctor is not all there. His characterization is far too drawn from the 4th Doctor, and the traits from the TV movie we all wished we could forget (the telling of individuals future, etc...). He performs some very undoctorish acts, although he is horrified enough when he accidentally wipes out 99% of the Zygon race.
Sam: I actually like her, she shows her rebellious nature, while still exposing her very vulnerable side from time to time. I was worried she would be a rip off of Ace, which she is definately not.
Litefoot is very well done, you sense the confusion and excitement he is going through in this adventure. He remains very true to the television portrayal.
Lingering Questions:Almost none, the only real mystery left is how long it has been after the story finishes that the Doctor comes back and visits Litefoot.
Verdict? Worth reading. The end chase bits get a little old, as does the early on Doctor acting like Tom, but towards the end he seems very much like the 8th Doctor. There was nowhere near as much gore as I expected, and what gore there was, was done very realistically.
A Review by Tom Wilton 12/1/00
The trouble with many of the early EDAs was their obsession with recycling old characters from the TV series. Considering that the BBC were hoping to attract new fans to the range, it seems strange that they should choose to reflect on past glories that would be unfamiliar to anyone coming fresh to the show. Therefore, commissioning a novel which relies heavily on three elements nearly twenty years old does not appear to be the most sensible option.
The first of these elements, the Zygons, both suffer and benefit from the transition to the written word. What we lose in the rasping, hissing voices of television, we gain in not being able to see the rubber suits of the originals. Overall, they work well as villains. They are mildly threatening, mostly thanks to the use of their shapeshifting abilities. However, this was something used well on television and it felt as if they did very little new.
The Skarasen, on the other hand, were used much more effectively than in the original series. Perhaps the novel's greatest achievement is the image of a hoard of the beasts rampaging through Victorian London. In this moment they become some of the most terrifying creatures Doctor Who has ever known and I wasn't able to tell if I was annoyed by my finding them cute in later scenes when they have been subdued. There is a part of me that likes my monsters to always be scary and the placid Skarasen did not fulfil this.
The return of Professor Litefoot seemed to me an utterly pointless grave-robbing (more of that later). The character could have been absolutely anyone and I can only presume that the novel was not written with the intention of bringing Litefoot back, but rather an original character was bumped in favour for Litefoot when the author realised the similarities between the two. I would prefer that this was the circumstances, because as a novel written to bring back Litefoot, The Bodysnatchers was most disappointing.
Considering the BBC's initial claims to aim their novels at a younger audience than Virgin, there is a surprising amount of gore in The Bodysnatchers. As Morris is an author with a grounding in horror fiction, this is perhaps not to be surprised. Perhaps the neatest comparison is with John Peel's Missing Adventure Evolution which also featured grave-robbing. Whereas Evolution dealt with the matter swiftly, The Bodysnatchers dwells on it, as befits its more central role in the plot (and title) of the novel. And as an aside, the image I found most disturbing was the unenviable fate of the horses encountered by the released Skarasen.
Again the Doctor is shown to be making things up as he goes along, as his attempts to settle a peaceful solution go disastrously wrong. It has quickly become clear that this Doctor is not anywhere near as much proactive as many of his predecessors, and I like that there seems to be some (although it is a small amount) uniformity in the authors' approach to the central character.
Sam, however, once again seemed to suffer in comparison to the Doctor. It must be said that I found her a more convincing character than in the previous two novels - and she does get some good lines - but I again found it fortunate there was a companion-like character also in the novel, in this case, Emmeline.
As the first, new Who-author of the BBC range, Mark Morris provides another flawed success in my opinion. Just as The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science were let down by niggling annoyances, The Bodysnatchers also fares the same. In a novel which provides strong imagery of the period setting and horrors contained within, I felt let down by a reliance on former glories and an insubstantial view of Sam's character.
A Review by Anthony Haynes 25/1/00
I felt that The Bodysnatchers was a well written, straight forward Doctor Who Novel. The setting of Victorian London with many of the New Adventures is realistic, adding to the overall atmosphere of the story. The Character development is quite good in regards to the supporting characters, and any good novel begins this way.
However, the book seems to fall short in many areas. The characterization of the Doctor is not as complete as in Vampire Science. References seem to be made to the Tom Baker characterization which is really unfortunate. Vampire Science and The Tele-Movie added a new Doctor that was written well and portrayed even better by Paul McGann. The Doctor always changes, that is the benefit of having different actors portraying the Doctor and which made the original shows title character so memorable. The character of Sam also seemed to take a step backwards and played a relatively small role in the book.
It seemed that the author's favorite story was the Talons of Weng Chiang. He brought back the character of Litefoot, which I particularly enjoyed. However, just because a story is set in Victorian London does that mean that characters seen in previous stories need to be brought back? Why did the Doctor enlist Litefoot after telling Sam earlier in the story that he could not help someone with Gang Green, stating that it would effect future events? Wouldn't it make sense that the timeline would be affected by introducing himself again to Litefoot and even Litefoot seeing the Tardis?
The story is entertaining and bringing back the Zygons was an added touch. The author seemed to make the Zygons less evil, but maybe he was attempting realism. I have found that what makes a Doctor Who "Monster" so great, is their pure evil.
The Victorian Constabulary could have been used more in the story. Police or military always added a fascinating dimension to most Doctor Who Stories.
Overall a decent book to read and not a waste of time.
Derisive, but Great by Richard Radcliffe 14/2/01
Replete with references to Talons and Zygons this is DW firmly in the "trad" frame. The 8th Doctor roams the late 19th Century - and the mood and atmosphere that evokes is all present. The 8th Doctor is wonderfully at home in this environment. Sam fares less well. She is possibly the blandest companion to have travelled with the Doctor. She isn't bad here - just nothing to write home about.
Professor Litefoot returns, just the same as he was in Talons. Fog-bound streets, hansom carriages, dark factories all combine to create atmosphere and intrigue. You half expect Sherlock Holmes to emerge with Watson from a side street!
If you want an challenging story, with complex ideas, that you can really get your teeth into - read Alien Bodies! If you want a good, undemanding, easy to understand read - this is the one. To be fair it is nice to see that DW fiction can incorporate both. I definitely prefer this kind of familiarity though. A fine debut novel from Morris. 9/10
A Review by Stephen Mills 14/6/01
This was a quite unique book for me as it was the first 8th Doctor book I've read. I'm always reluctant to buy books that are part of a continuos series because it always seems like there will be references to previous books. I decided to buy this one though with a combination of promising characters and it being in the sales, I thought, why not. So what did I think?
Well for a start, the characters. I think that the Doctor works reasonably well with her new companion Sam. You get the idea at the start that he might be the 4th Doctor in disguise but instead it is the 8th Doctor. As you go on, the Doctor starts to become more like the 8th Doctor as oppose to the 4th Doctor. The character of Sam works really well. You can tell though that she is too similar to Ace to be anything original, which is a shame. Though one thing you can tell straight away is that the Doctor and Sam get on very well. She wears a Walkman, which she knows, is anachronism and was doing it to annoy the Doctor which he knew. One line that did make me laugh is the comment from the Doctor at Sam's clothes.
"You definitely look cool," said the Doctor. "In fact you'll be the equivalent of a 1890's Spice Girl.What it does do is some up the two occupants of the TARDIS very well and know that they get on well.
"I think I'd better take that as a compliment or otherwise I'm going to end up giving you a slap" replied Sam.
Apart from that the rest of the characterizations are true to their routes. Professor Litefoot is his useful bumbling self and managing to present an interesting side of things. The Zygons are given more depth and we learn much more about them. We learn the name of the planet they come from. We learn there are two different variations of Zygons. Apart from that there up to the same antics as in the 4th Doctor story, Terror of the Zygons. One other character I'd like to mention is Emmeliene. Emmeliene meets up with the Doctor, Sam and Litefoot at about the mid-point of this story. The death of her mother who was killed by her father. Emmeliene is so distressed with the death that she meets up with the Doctor, Sam and Litefoot. She then convinces them that she wants to go with them to the Zygon base and the character is so well written by author Mark Morris that he convinces the audience that Emmeliene is a real person that it makes the cliffhanger to Chapter 5 such a surprise.
The actual story is kept very simple. The whole story revolves around the Zygons wanting to take over Earth and destroy every human on the planet. For a plot that is a really simple story but it is one that is so effective. One thing that does worry me is that usually for a Doctor Who story their needs to be a sub-plot, which develops, and then links in with the main plot like for example. In The Talons of Weng-Chiang there are girls that go missing. They are used to help boost Weng-Chaing that allows him to be able to carry on looking for the time cabinet. With this story I don't feel that the sub-plot is strong enough. The are grave robbers who help feed the Skarasen that feed the Zygons that then are able to take over the Earth. While grave robbing is a horrible thought these people are dead which for me doesn't quite have that impact like people going missing mysteriously. Aside from that the story is structured very well and almost like an old 4 part Doctor Who story. Cliffhanger 1 is the Skarasen advancing on the Doctor, Sam and Litefoot. Cliffhanger 2 is Emmeliene's transformation and Cliffhanger 3 is Balaak threatening to kill the Doctor after he wiped out the Zygons. The resolution is an excellent ending though.
Although this story does have it's bad points. They include the weak sub plot and the Doctor and companion not being very original, particularly at the start, the story is an extremely good one with the welcome return of Litefoot and the Zygons make this an extremely enjoyable story. Perhaps I will be reading more 8th Doctor books in the future. 8.5/10
The Zygons are coming, in two different flavours by Marcus Salisbury 30/11/02 The Bodysnatchers is a plain, straightforward piece of work. Hardly a glittering classic, but a fairly neat piece which provides some mostly harmless entertainment. I've just re-read it alongside Mark Morris's other work, the PDA Deep Blue, and it's far preferable to that tome. The Bodysnatchers was published in 1997, and went through two printings in a year. Pretty impressive stuff, and I suspect largely to do with the excellent front cover, in which a Zygon is displayed prominently. Does the book live up to the promise of its praiseworthy binding? Unlike the similarly nostalgic War of the Daleks, the answer is "kind of".
There are numerous features common to both works -- the aquatic motif, the thoroughly conventional "body horror" plot, and the redeployment of fondly remembered past characters (Weng-Chiang's Professor Litefoot in this instance). Both books are pretty big on the blood'n'guts, and culminate with a bloody rampage by slavering amphibious alien beasties let loose from a submerged spaceship. Deep Blue is, however, a fairly tired effort, and a summary (in a way) of the inherent problems that have beset the majority of PDAs. It doesn't say much, doesn't do much, and just drags out a few stock characters and sets them loose in a predictable plot, which gives not a few dead horses a vigorous flogging. The Bodysnatchers could also be said to lay a few hefty thwacks on Trigger, but there is somehow more material of interest here.
The plot is, as I have stated, thoroughly conventional. Weird things happen in an opening "teaser" which involves a hapless minor character blundering over horrific happenings. Enter the Doctor, who flounders around assisted by Sam and Litefoot, and snatches victory from the cybernetically-modified jaws of defeat via the mouldy old tactic of bundling the baddies onto the TARDIS and shipping them off to a suitably uninhabited world. This is pretty familiar stuff. Where this book scores, however, is its sensible use of a popular race of "monsters", and its vivid recreation of London in 1894.
The big villains of the piece, the Zygons, are given some extra background. We learn that they are naturally a white, blobby, foetal Mr. Stay-Puft species, with only selected specimens sterilised to become the familiar suckered, high-domed warrior class. Zygon history is deepened too, with some retcon about their homeworld being destroyed by the Xaranti (a race of giant carnivorous spider crabs led by a giant booger who feature, in profoundly underwhelming fashion, in Deep Blue). The Zygon characters are drawn in primary colours, so to speak: there's a nasty warrior (Balaak, the leader) who meets a sticky end, and a nice scientist (Tuval) who ends up being "dropped off" on a suitable world and gets to be "a grandfather sixty times over". We also get a whole army of immature Skarasen (Skarasens?) chomping their way down the Thames, in a scene that would be the latest in the line of classic Who "monster rampage" moments if it were included in a filmed series. (Any ideas for some more? Spearhead from Space episode four is still the benchmark here). In any case, the Skarasens on the loose in Bodysnatchers almost make up for the silly CSO glove puppet in Terror of the Zygons. That about sums up this book: nice scenes, bland chapters.
Local colour (also a prominent feature of Terror of the Zygons, and a big plus in Deep Blue) is captured well here. All the stereotypical "Victorian London" shadows-and-gaslight elements are on display, following closely such definitive period pieces as Weng-Chiang and Dickens's Our Mutual Friend (dramatised by the BBC at the time The Bodysnatchers was written, as I recall). There's also a touch of Ghost Light, in the characters of Nathaniel Seers and his daughter Emmeline. Most other humans are in the story as Skarasen-fodder. The Zygon ship's environment is also conveyed vividly. ("Nodules and protuberances" that all smell like tripe. Enough said).
The big problem for me was (as in the case of Deep Blue yet again) Morris's inability to effectively convey the character of the Doctor. One minute he's magisterial and knowing a la McCoy at his peak (in the Virgin NAs), then he's doing a convincing Troughton/Pertwee/Baker imitation. Then he's all-knowing again. This is not Morris's fault. The lack of focus of the Eighth Doctor is a defining characteristic of the early 8DAs, with a few notable exceptions. In the absence of more than 90 minutes' on-screen definition of the character, I suppose it's tempting to play it safe and cut-and-paste the past.
Sam is her usual cipherish, politically correct, early 8DA self. The character of Sam was, by the by, the single biggest mistake made by the creators of the early 8DAs. Not until Interference was Sam Jones given some workable material, and it was all over by then anyway. The character has two settings: wide-eyed and indignant, rather like the similarly grating Peri Brown, and I found myself skipping through the sections of Bodysnatchers where Sam carries the action. Litefoot works as well as you'd expect, given that the character as created by Robert Holmes was part of a double act with the theatre manager Henry Gordon Jago. The larger-than-life Jago (played in Weng-Chiang by the excellent Christopher Benjamin) was surely the half of the duo who could work on his own in a PDA. Litefoot simply wanders mystified through the tale bickering with Sam, in the manner pioneered by Dr. Watson and Bernice Summerfield in Andy Lane's Virgin NA All-Consuming Fire. See what I mean... it's all been done better elsewhere.
All in all, The Bodysnatchers is, like Deep Blue, fast food for the head. It's written fairly well, and has some excellent set pieces (such as the opening teaser, the Skarasen rampage, the Zygon ship, and the suitably gross death of Balaak). The Zygons come off relatively unscathed, compared to the awful deployment of other old villains in early 8DAs. Mark Morris has clearly invested some research time, and it shows in his fine recreation of creepy late-Victoriana. If you happen across a copy of Bodysnatchers, by all means read it. Don't expect anything paradigm-shattering, it's just one of the better entries in a shaky period in the franchise's history.
A Review by Finn Clark 12/5/03
I did it! I did it! I've reviewed all the 8th Doctor novels! Wahay! This probably makes me a sad bastard, but what the hell... :-)
There's a lot wrong with The Bodysnatchers, especially near the beginning, but it keeps improving until by the end I thought it was a laugh. I can see why it's not generally popular, but I enjoyed it.
The first fifty pages are awful. The plot (such as it is) isn't under way yet, so instead we get bad portrayals of the 8th Doctor and Sam doing nothing of interest while predictable nastiness happens elsewhere. We see some of the Doctor's thoughts, always a bad idea but here particularly poorly executed. Meanwhile for this book only Sam Jones has mysteriously morphed into an Ace clone, albeit with Sam's more annoying traits grafted on. Yes, she still has a ghastly obsession with looking cool. Also she makes too many pop culture references and never seems to understand the culture clash between her era and Victorian London. She's like Ace in Ghost Light, except that with Ace the penny eventually dropped.
In fact the characterisation's poor throughout. Litefoot never comes alive and the original characters are run-of-the-mill; Jack Howe is okay but so cartoonishly evil that eventually he just became funny. I liked Tuval the scientist Zygon though.
There's far more continuity than you'd expect, even in a book that sequelises two Tom Baker stories simultaneously. The Doctor's introduction is almost Gary Russell-esque, while strange bits of continuity keep popping up throughout. Was Mark Morris a closet fanboy? The geek-out is particularly bad with the TARDIS, with its temporal grace and Hostile Action Displacement System getting shown off and the former being given such amazingly extended powers that I think we'll have to assume there was a system failure almost immediately. Just from the following few 8DAs, Mark Morris's notion of temporal grace would have buggered up the endings of War of the Daleks and Option Lock.
However this book has two saving graces: Victoriana and the Zygons. I loved 'em both. Morris gives us some staggeringly stupid Zygon mentality, but also some strange reinvention and squiddy bio-tech. Similarly the nineteenth century is evoked with vigour and venom, giving us a gruesome world of deprivation and disease. You can tell Mark Morris is a horror author. Forgot plot or characterisation. The Bodysnatchers is at its liveliest when trying to make you go "ewwww", be it by wading through sewage, graverobbing or Jack Howe's idea of a friendly pub pastime.
The plot is pretty simple ("Zygons in Victorian London" pretty much sums it up) but eventually I got caught up in it. The Doctor gets some good scenes confronting the baddies, while ironically the book's best bits came after the Zygons were dead. However I realised afterwards that the story is so straightforward that only the Doctor gets anything interesting to do and his most significant action is a ghastly cock-up. Ah well. It's still nice to see a comparatively Doctor-centric book, especially when compared with many of the other 1997-2000 8DAs.
And then there's Sam Jones. I've said she's annoying here and she is, in spades, but it also occurred to me that in her first year she gets the best development of any BBC companion. Vampire Science was Sam's first real adventure and in that she's arrogant, stupid, preachy and trying to out-cool the Doctor until the vampires get her. She survives (damn!) and in The Bodysnatchers she's still cocky and image-obsessed. Eventually the Doctor gives her a good talking-to (p249)... and miracle of miracles, she listens! All that "trying to look cool" nonsense disappears from Genocide onwards, and her self-righteous confidence takes a further knock in that book when she kills a Tractite.
Sam stops trying to be like the Doctor and falls for him instead. Almost from the beginning we knew that she was aware of him sexually, but after War of the Daleks it's no longer ambiguous. In Longest Day her feelings make her go batshit and she runs away from the Doctor, thus triggering the four-book Sam is Missing arc which ended with Seeing I. Oh, and we also got the Dark Sam revelations.
I'm sure much of that happened by accident, but I'm still impressed. Fan-favourite companions tend to be iconic rather than evolving, with the likes of Benny or Fitz today being identical to the versions we saw on debut. Whereas those twelve months from The Eight Doctors to Seeing I have real character development for Sam, both in the details and the larger brushstrokes. She even becomes tolerable from Alien Bodies onwards. It's just a shame that the character fell apart after Seeing I, with the Ha'olam non-developments being largely ignored and a preachier-than-ever Sam going from bad to worse in books like The Janus Conjunction, Beltempest and The Face-Eater.
In all honesty The Bodysnatchers isn't particularly good, though I thought Mark Morris was starting to find his feet towards the end. (There's a great line on p256.) There's not much that's interesting or surprising, but as a horror-tinged potboiler I had some fun with it. Its bashing back in 1997 probably had much to do with fan expectations and BBC-Virgin comparisons. You could read worse.
A Review by Brian May 6/11/04
Let me get my first gripe about The Bodysnatchers out of the way before reviewing it proper. In the tradition of The Sontaran Experiment, Attack of the Cybermen and almost every Dalek story, any sense of mystery is ruined by the announcement of the Zygons on the book's blurb and front cover. Thanks to this information, the reader knows from the outset why Nathaniel Seers's behaviour has suddenly changed. Nor is there any need to guess what sort of creature uses semi-organic communications and surveillance devices.
It would have been fantastic to have the presence of the Zygons shrouded in mystery. They're an adversary worthy of a return appearance, and a keen and knowledgeable fan would have worked out who they were - that would have been part of the fun of reading and discovering continual clues. The descriptions of the organic ship would be the final giveaway, but from the first chapter any hope of a surprise revelation has been doused - for this uncertainty would have been wonderfully appropriate for an adventure set in the foggy winter dark of Victorian London.
How does The Bodysnatchers stand as horror, given that the author is well known in this genre? Well, I wouldn't call it horror at all. There's certainly an atmosphere - the setting, as I just mentioned, and the conditions of London's poor in this day and age, captured with an unremittingly grim realism. But for real horror - psychological, less-is-more suspense, this book fails. However, if gross-out, splatter horror is your cup of tea, then The Bodysnatchers is perfect for you! There's a succession of slime, boils, bile, vomit, human waste and a variety of violent deaths involving intestines, spinal cords and other body parts on display. The book has some truly disgusting moments. Granted, some are acceptable: the descriptions of all the gadgets used by the Zygons, plus the details of their ship and especially the cowls that hold their prisoners in place. These all effectively emphasise just how alien these beings are. But then there are Jack's violent acts - both the deeds themselves and Albert's recollections of them - and his unpleasant death; Balaak's death throes; and quite a distressing description of a dead child. I understand that moments like the last one serve to drive home the carnage caused by the Skarasens' rampage, but there are (or there should be) limits. Graphic violence has occurred before in Doctor Who fiction and it will occur again. But honestly, how much of it is really necessary?
To give the author his due, there are a couple of genuine horror moments. The first is Tom Donahue's demise near the beginning. The second, and probably the best, is Emmeline's discovery of her dead mother. It's a brilliantly realised piece of writing, with the proper build-up and breath-catching atmosphere. The story has a couple of great twists: Emmeline being a Zygon replica took me totally by surprise, while the Doctor's accidental virtual genocide of the Zygons is the most dramatic; his horrified reaction at what he has done is excellent.
These moments highlight Mark Morris's strengths. He is a good writer; his feel for narrative and his descriptions of places and events are those of a skilled professional. But his prose does get a bit long-winded at times; the journey made by the Doctor and co. down the "chute" as they explore the Zygon ship goes on forever, as does the Doctor's underwater adventure on the side of the submerged spacecraft. And there are some parts that are just plain ludicrous! The Doctor becomes horse whisperer, using a Venusian lullaby to try and calm a distressed equine, with a Skarasen right next to him munching away on one of its less fortunate fellows. The monster doesn't notice him? It can't hear him? It doesn't try to take a bite out of him? Another highly improbable scenario is at the end, when the Doctor bundles all the Skarasen into the TARDIS, fitting them in fine.
Characterisation is not one of Morris's strong features, however. The eighth Doctor comes across passably - not spectacularly, but satisfactorily McGann-like. I know Sam doesn't have many friends in Who fandom - this was the first adventure of hers I read, so I tried to be objective. She comes across as very shallow and image-conscious, with pop culture references thrown in to give her a contemporary "with it" feel. She has many supposedly deep and meaningful inner thoughts about her relationship with the Doctor - how she perceives him, how she compares to him etc. But it's all a bit artificial. And, once again beggaring our belief, her internal monologue on p.262 is all taking place while the Doctor is attempting to rescue the horses from the Skarasen! She's musing about the Doctor's continual protection of her, all the while there's a big savage monster not far away! I'd have more urgent things on my mind at that time, and save the philosophising for later!
Jack, Albert and Emmeline are all fairly bland, although the last one does have her moments; there's a bit of reader sympathy for her as she wonders what's made her father change so much. Professor Litefoot, a wonderful character from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, returns in this adventure. Like the Zygons, his presence is welcome, if done properly. But all he seems to do here is say "'Pon my soul" all the time and have Sam treat him like a repressed Victorian. However, on the positive side, Tuval is an excellent character; Morris should be commended for elaborating on the Zygons - not just giving them a home planet, history and culture, but also proving they're not all villainous aliens hell-bent on invasion. Like his television counterpart, invasion is on Balaak's agenda, but thankfully it's an aside to the story, not the story itself. Morris despatches with the Zygons well before the end, but fills the final sections with the boring Skarasen rampage.
And Mark, careful with the continuity references! You're not as bad as some (at least not until Deep Blue) and I would have been disappointed if Litefoot's elephant gun hadn't made an appearance. But the Newgate's knocker and Amazonian hatbox quotes from Talons are mere showing off, while the repetition of the Doctor's dislikes from Ghost Light on p.275 is completely unnecessary. In its original context this is one of Doctor Who's most magical and evocative pieces of dialogue - reproducing it like this is cheap and insulting. However, there's one great line - the Doctor's "elastic band" gag on p.256 is an absolute scream!
It's one of a few gems that sparkle in The Bodysnatchers. But unfortunately they're few and far between. The rest is fairly mediocre, and a great letdown for what could have been a spine tingling horror. The majority of the book's moments fall between the implausible, the ridiculous and the just plain nasty. 3.5/10
The trial! by Joe Ford 22/6/05
I call to the stand The Bodysnatchers to defend its heinous crimes against humanity or rather Doctor Who fiction in particular. To this end I have rounded up two generic Doctor Who fans to prosecute the novel in question and one insane member of the human race to defend the book, the most emotional of reviewers, Joe Ford.
Generic fan number one: It is clear that this is an inferior piece of work especially when compared to the Virgin New Adventures which dished out more complex and rich works than this. The comparison between BBC books and Virgin was never more obvious as this is only three books into the BBC's reign and one of those books was The Eight Doctors. Virgin had created a fabulous new universe to tell interesting and diverse stories in with a regular cast that was growing all the time; their interpretation of the future was the springboard for some fascinating adventures taking the series in new directions it had not explored before. To return to this sort of storytelling, Zygons in Victorian London is so annoyingly retro and series seems to want to forget all the good work Virgin has done to enhance the Doctor Who universe.
Joe: Hmm, well I'm not quite sure that I buy this argument, an argument incidentally that I heard quite a bit during the opening stages of the BBC Eighth Doctor adventures. For a start you have to remember that Virgin's third New Adventure was Timewyrm: Apocalypse which was such an inept novel that Revelation seems to have been considered as some sort of masterpiece simply because it is a better piece of fiction. The Bodysnatchers quite clearly never plummets to the depth of the early Virgin adventures. And for some, the heavy interlinking themes, characters and ideas that made up the Virgin adventures were their biggest failing and not their biggest strength. The joy of Doctor Who was its diversity and the sheer number of stories told within its "future history" setting diminished that strength and left each subsequent novel just a further exploration of something already told rather than a story in its own right. The joy of these early BBC adventures is their diversity and simplicity. It is quite wonderful to be fighting Vampires in modern day America one month and fighting Zygons in Victorian London that next. There is a real feeling that each book stands up on its own strengths rather than having the back-story of many combined novels to give it a boost. Admittedly Virgin were telling more emotional stories than the BBC at this point but to be perfectly frank a pulpy horror tale like this is far more what I consider to be Doctor Who than novels such as So Vile a Sin and Damaged Goods, fantastic works to be sure but Doctor Who... only just.
Generic fan two: What a load of old codswallop! I am behind generic fan one all the way; what we needed was arcs. ARCS! ARCS! ARCS! ARCS! Just like what Virgin gave us! Interconnected stories with a running theme and lots of character exploration! None of this hodge podge collection of old Doctor Who stories shoved together with little thought or characterisation. Arcs are the way to go!
Joe: Another old argument and one that has come full circle in the seven odd years since The Bodysnatchers was published. Nobody wanted self-contained adventures at the time, not after Virgin had shown us the way to go with clever arcs with stories that build on top of each other to create a dramatic crescendo. So what did we get? The Sam is Missing arc. The Compassion arc. The Caught on Earth arc. The Sabbath arc. Arc after arc after arc! And people got more and more sick of them. And guess what they are now rallying for? More self-contained adventures! Honestly I just don't think fandom knows when it is better off! If you take a look at The Deadstone Memorial, clearly a superior book to The Bodysnatchers (with seven years worth of material for Trevor Baxendale to wade through to see what works and what doesn't in Doctor Who fiction) but essentially they are exactly the same thing, a domestic horror tale with the eighth Doctor that features aliens under the Earth that want to go home. It is merely how fandom's tastes have changed that sees The Bodysnatchers at the bottom of the book polls and The Deadstone Memorial close to the top.
Generic fan one: Yeah but try and defend the outcry against the eighth Doctor and Sam, whichever way you look backwards to the Virgin adventures or forwards to the later BBC adventures there has never been a Doctor and companion that has been THIS unpopular (with good reason).
Joe: Here I have to agree. Sam Jones was the most generic companion ever invented. It is interesting to note that early scenes in The Bodysnatchers play like the early scenes of The Unquiet Dead of RTD's new television Doctor Who series with Sam/Rose getting dressed and ready to explore the Victorian era. However the difference between the two characters is obvious from the outset. Whereas it is easy to empathise with Rose who is excited and caught up with the wonder of travelling back in time, Sam is this know-it-all streetwise kid who has seen it all before and thinks she can handle anything. Rose is in awe, Sam is pretty bored. And lets face it; nobody likes a smug bitch like that.
However there is something to be said about how Mark Morris portrays the eighth Doctor here with the very common theme of him improvising his adventures and making some terrible mistakes. It is a particular contrast to the seventh Doctor who as Time's Champion had his adventures sewn up before they began; this Doctor was fallible and not half as clever as he thought. Perhaps it belittled his character somewhat but it certainly complements his half human status established in the TV Movie. His simple childlike joy at meeting up with Professor Litefoot and having an "old style" adventure is wonderful, almost as if all the emotional drama his previous incarnation went through is over and now it is time to get back to some good old fashioned fun! And whilst his goofiness and joi de vivre would be heavily criticized in subsequent years it is fascinating to note that once his adventures got bogged down in drama and emotions what was it the fans wanted... a lighter hearted, amiable Doctor! Gah, looking at this objectively we have finished the eighth Doctor's adventures in exactly the same place as we started them!
Generic fan two: You are merely arguing statistics, as usual in your silly reviews. You have not discussed The Bodysnatchers in any depth at all, merely compared it to other, superior works! What about the cliched plot? The flat characters? The obvious setting?
Joe: I was merely putting the book in perspective, correlating fan opinion at the time and fan opinion now. I find you can discover much about the potential of a book and the impression it makes by comparing it to other works and taking into consideration fan reaction. But if it's a detailed review you want, fine.
The truth of the matter is this is a simple, pulpy horror tale, the sort of comfortable horror Doctor Who excelled at on the televison. It has no hidden agenda and doesn't want to be about anything, Mark Morris simply wants the reader to enjoy a corking adventure. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, Terrance Dicks has been fulfilling this particular function for fandom for years.
Perhaps the BBC were flirting their ability to capitalise on the TV series in their early books and as a sequel to two Tom Baker stories this has its work cut out for it. Anybody expecting another Talons of Weng-Chiang or Terror of the Zygons is bound to be disappointed though as Morris steals creations from these tales and plants them into an adventure of his own making, not just a rip off. And to be fair he utilises both Litefoot and the Zygons rather well, the former afforded another exciting adventure in his later years after returning to his drab life after the Weng-Chiang affair and the latter is treated to some interesting background information far beyond the surface characterisation of their debut. We find out about the Zygon class system, genders, scientific community, their ships, the Skarasen, the war that saw them seek an alternative home... they are hardly the deepest of monsters but Morris uses their reappearance to answer all the questions the TV series forgot to ask.
What's more, this actually quite a well-written book. I am not talking about the plot, which is a bit on thin side, but the actual prose, which manages to conjour up the grislier aspects of Victorian London with some expertly spun cliches (foggy streets, bodysnatching, the smell of dung...). Whilst this is clearly aimed at a younger audience than even Vampire Science, there is nothing at all wrong with the descriptive prose here and in places it is quite inspired. Even Morris' later Deep Blue, which I loathed because of its predictable plot and terrible characters, was slightly redeemed by his expert ability to turn a descriptive phrase. I am probably not at my most objective because I love any set during the Victorian times, especially stories that concentrate on the nastier side of their culture so I was bound to get sucked into this sort of thing.
Equally fun is the number of fun twists that Morris peppers his book with, namely the unmasking of Emmeline as a Zygon, the brilliant time-looping of Tuval and of course the final shocking mistake of the Doctor's, practically wiping out the Zygon species. Morris gets you nice and comfortable with his relaxing adventuring and these moments make more of an impression than they would in a novel with a more aggressive tone.
This is not deep or clever; it is simply a big dollop of Doctor Who fun. If you want arcs and intelligence and drama go and read Interference.
Generic fan one: Hmph, I think I go and do that. At least that novel bothers to screw around with Doctor Who's TV history so it is IMPORTANT. IT MEANS SOMETHING.
Generic fan two: I'm off to read Transit, it might be a load of old pants but at least it contains sex and swearing and violence like proper (Virgin) Doctor Who.
Verdict: The Bodysnatchers is fluffy and harmless and is a worthy addition to any Doctor Who fan's collection. It may take time but try and read the entire Virgin and BBC lines in preparation for this novel, it certainly gives you a much broader perspective and it certainly made me appreciate it much more than I did when I first read it.
THIS ENTIRE REVIEW HAS TAKEN PLACE IN JOE FORD'S HEAD. IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT HE IS SCIZOPHRENIC AND HE IS NOW OFF TO THE LOACL PSYCH WARD FOR A VERY, VERY LONG TIME.
A Review by Steve White 9/2/13
After reading other reviews here, it seems to be the case that The Bodysnatchers isn't a popular book. I must disagree.
The novel is set in Victorian times and focuses on a Zygon invasion of London. I love the Victorian era, as it is very atmospheric, and Mark Morris puts this to paper exceedingly well. It could be a Sherlock Holmes book, were it not for the futuristic sci-fi elements. The story itself builds up swiftly and then the action just keeps on coming. I know some people like a lot of build up, but I prefer my stories to be fast-paced and action-packed. The Bodysnatchers doesn't disappoint here, keeping you entertained and wanting to read on until the very end.
Despite its pace, the characters are built up enough in order for you to visualise them clearly. As the book is set in Victorian times, this isn't really that hard but the characters do seem three-dimensional. Talking of characters, a couple of old faces return. Firstly, Professor Litefoot, who was in the TV serial The Talons Of Weng Chiang and secondly the aforementioned Zygons. The Bodysnatchers was Mark Morris' first Doctor Who novel so for him to be trusted with two fan favourites just goes to show how much talent this guy has. He has Litefoot down totally; you can honestly believe it is the same Litefoot from the TV show. The Zygons' involvement was a masterstroke, and they too are spot on to the TV show. They also get a bit of back story, which is always nice.
The Doctor himself is shown to have the same traits as in Vampire Science, but this time around it is clear he makes mistakes by having him wipe out all the Zygons by accident. You really feel his pain at this and it just endears him to you all the more. Characterwise, the only annoyance is the Doctor's companion, Sam, who is utterly irritating at times. However, like in Vampire Science, this is how she is meant to be, so it shows the author is doing his job well.
A final thing worth mentioning is the very adult content present throughout the book. As the title suggests, dead bodies are frequent throughout, most have suffered horrible fates and the author describes these in vivid detail. For the most part, this fits in to the novel: if you get bitten by a Skarasen, then you can't expect it to be pretty. However, sometimes it does overstep the mark: there is no reason to feature a child's head with spinal column still attached at all. Also of note is the presence of a semi-naked woman, but for me this was more to show Sam's attachment to the Doctor, rather than for shock value.
I'd thoroughly recommend The Bodysnatchers to casual fans just getting started with the Eighth Doctor. There really isn't much to hate about it; it is set in a great era, with great characters and is an actioned-packed story. Best of the EDA's thus far, I'd say.