Spearhead from Space
The Scales of Injustice
Terror of the Autons
The Ultimate Foe
Terror of the Vervoids
|ISBN#||0 563 40575 9|
The Ultimate Foe and Terror of the Vervoids
Synopsis: The Doctor investigates a mysterious new company called
SeneNet that is turning the world's information systems against themselves
and soon discovers some old foes are behind the plot.
A Review by James Ambuehl 1/6/98
Having heard horror stories about how grating a character Mel could be -- and having seen very few of Colin Baker's stories, and not been terribly impressed by what I had seen -- I was prepared to pass this book by altogether. But then someone leaked to me just who the returning villains were (I know I shouldn't actually say: so I'll just mention that 'SeneNet' is an anagram!), and being an especial Pertwee fan, I just had to read this! And then finding out that the Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was involved -- well, I just knew this was going to be a special book!
And I was right! The plot is slightly reminiscent of what I understand Downtime to be about, and at times I felt like I was reading a genre horror novel rather than a Doctor Who novel -- but this book fits in firmly as an able sequel to those two preceding Pertwee stories: an engaging page-turner indeed!
Surprisingly, I liked both the 6th Doctor and Mel here as well, and most of the other characters as well. And that returning character was handled consistently with its previous appearances. And best of all, this is a stand-alone novel which can be read by the Doctor Who old hand or novice (which I am, this being only my third novel read) alike!
I am still not predisposed to collecting all of the Colin Baker videos; but having enjoyed this one, I can't wait to start its semi-prequel, The Scales of Injustice.
Virginity Within the BBC by Sarah G. Hadley 19/6/98
Well, I mean what I say is this is the most Virgin-like BBC Who novel I?ve read yet out of about a dozen. And that?s really only appropriate, because Business Unusual is a sequel to a Third Doctor Virgin Missing Adventure, The Scales of Injustice, which, quite simply, is a horribly bad book. In a strange turn of the tide, Business Unusual is horribly good.
I stress the word "horribly," for this book is very horrible indeed... and that?s partially why it seems so much like a Virgin novel. I was surprised and glad to see that most BBC books had generally less violence, and less senseless killing, than the Virgins. While not up to the par of its prequel, which is potentially one of the Virgin books to feature the most senseless killing, this story is easily as violent as most Virgin NAs and MAs. The interesting thing is that it benefits from that: the story is very violent, and needs to be.
The main characters are strong, particularly the Doctor himself, who is the star of an early, magical scene set in a ?Nessie Burger? restaurant, which shows the full range of his emotion and alienness. Mel is reasonably likeable (thankfully not too irritating) while the Irish Twins and other employees of the central villain are well-characterized. There?s a secondary character called Roberta, secretary to the villain, who has been mentally conditioned to believe she was in a terrible accident, with cybernetics saving her from death... she?s an interesting secondary character who doesn?t really ever do anything, which is unfortunate.
Also unfortunate is the amount of other secondary characters who don?t do anything; even Lethbridge-Stewart spends most of his time locked up, only to emerge at the end and blow everything to kingdom come. The surprise villains seem to be tacked on as well, and are dreadfully underused, as if the BBC required Gary Russell to add on old elements when the book was good enough already.
The story itself is grand, though, and that makes up for some lack of minor character development. It seems to be an interesting combination of the good elements from Downtime and two of the stories from the 'missing season', The Nightmare Fair and Yellow Fever. It's perhaps not really a science fiction novel, but a gripping, contemporary (or fairly so) suspense book. And it truly succeeds at that.
So overall, what to say? If you enjoyed the Virgin Missing Adventures, you?ll like this. If you enjoy the BBC Past Doctor Adventures, you?ll like this. It doesn?t matter if you like/dislike the Sixth Doctor or The Scales of Injustice... this is a good, sound, well-rounded, plot-driven suspense novel, and an excellent read on a stormy night.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 30/6/98
As with the Star Trek novels, I have certain Who authors that I look forward to reading more than others. That club includes Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, Kate Orman, and Gary Russell.
So, when I found out that not only was Business Unusual by Mr. Russell but a sequel to his superb Scales of Injustice, I was eccstatic. And while Business Unusual is a fun, enjoyable book, it's not quite on the same level as Scales of Injustice. But it's close.
The story features the sixth Doctor and his first meeting with Mel. I've got to be honest--I never really liked Mel that much. But after reading Russell's introductory adventure for her, I've got to admit I may not have given her a fair shake. Russell really shows what could have been done with Mel had the writers given her a better chance to develop. Or even a proper introductory story for that matter.
Once again, Russell's real strength is in capturing the flavor of the era he's writing for. The dialogue is perfect for the sixth Doctor as well as is the complications and issues he faces. I like the fact that the novels have shown how the Doctor desparately wants to avoid becoming the Valeyard in the future and that subplot is done masterfully here. The sixth Doctor has really benefited in terms of depth and characterization by the missing adventures series and it carries over well here.
Russell also continues to show how much depth some of the Pertwee era villains can have, given the right treatment. An old enemy resurfaces and while it takes the Doctor longer than it should to realize who they are, their use is quite good. To say more would be giving away too much of the novel's end.
About the only drawback of the novel is that while Russell includes a meeting between the sixth Doctor and the Brigadier, the Brigadier is kept on the sidelines far too long for my liking. Yes, we get to see some nice moments on the journey, but I kept wondering if he'd ever break free and join the main action.
All in all, Business Unusual is a satisying reading. Definitely worth picking up and investing some time in--even if you hate Mel.
A Review by Robert Smith? 30/10/98
The sixth Doctor is perhaps the highlight of this novel. As a fan of the character Colin Baker portrayed onscreen, I've discovered to my delight that the sixth Doctor (like the first and seventh) translates remarkably well to the printed page (unlike all the others). You don't need to be an award-winning author to make the character of the sixth come alive in prose and this is definitely to the Past Doctor Books' advantage. Furthermore, Russell draws on elements of the sixth Doctor arc that were developed in the Virgin line (without, thankfully, drawing on every element of that arc, making this work far better). Gary's stated aim is to write a sixth Doctor book Colin Baker would have liked to have been in and I think he succeeds admirably in this aim.
Events work magnificently as the Doctor finds himself desperate to avoid meeting Mel and yet confounded at every turn. This makes the otherwise fanwanky idea of writing the sixth Doctor and Mel's introductory story more palatable.
Mel herself works well enough, which is quite a compliment, really. She's consistent with the TV series, but not quite as annoying (although there is that aspect to her personality). Her family setting makes a lot of sense and the way she actually joins the Doctor is also quite believable.
The plot is initially quite clever, tying in with Millennial Rites and Mel's backstory involving the Master (as well as providing a decent reason for the Doctor to be involved in events) but without harming the story Russell wants to tell in the slightest.
The characters from Scales of Injustice work quite well here. The only exception is Jones, who (for some unknown reason) is a very different character than he was in the prequel. There were details from that time about Jones that were left hanging which I expected to be resolved here, yet they were completely ignored.
There is also absolutely no reason given as to why the augmented dog fails. It seemed as though this were being set up to be answered later, but no reason is ever given. Furthermore, as it provides the impetus for the events to occur, in hindsight it seems remarkably contrived.
I must confess, the SeneNet reference completely missed me, much to my delight when I found out exactly what it was. However, the meta-plot (involving an actual alien invasion) I thought was quite unnecessary. The human-oriented plot worked well enough as it is and it's a pity that Gary seemed to feel his story wasn't quite up to scratch without this.
I also took a sort of perverse delight in Roberta, the swivel-chair bound secretary. The Brigadier's subplot works well and his meeting the sixth Doctor a delight to every sad fanboy in existence (myself included!). The way the Brigadier becomes immersed in the plot is quite good, without forcing his character to do things it wasn't meant to, given what we know of (most of) the Brigadier's life story (unlike No Future, for instance). Personally, I thought it was a pity they didn't spend more time together. I think the Brigadier's relationship with the brash sixth Doctor has a lot of potential and we barely scratched the surface here.
Business Unusual is an enjoyable, fanwanky romp that should delight fanboyz everywhere. A few details aside, it works well, achieving exactly what it set out to do with some aplomb.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/7/01
Business Unusual manages to deal with several smaller stories within the overall framework of the main thrust of the book and manages to be both successful and enjoyable. Gary Russell gets full marks here; he ties up loose ends, reintroduces old enemies and a new companion as well. Characterisation is high, the Doctor and Melanie reading like they should and Mel gets an interesting backstory which incorporates her personality traits which we never saw on TV, e.g. her computer programming skills. The only slight bone of contention I have is the presence of the Brigadier, given that he spent no screen time (bar Dimensions In Time) with the Sixth Doctor, more should have been offered here, instead his presence seems wasted. Overall though Business Unusual is a worthwhile investment and a great read.
The Marterdom of Gary Russell by Marcus Salisbury 20/8/02
Veteran DWM readers might recall a review of the 1985 Target novelisation by the late great Ian Marter of the Troughton story The Invasion (from Issue 94 or thereabouts). In this review, the original story was slated as an "overlong romp," and the novelisation canned for having "all the subtlety of balloons at a funeral". The reviewer singled out relatively graphic passages such as "Routledge vomited a stream of blood, then pitched forward onto his face" for special attention, and the overall impression given was one of severe disapproval with Marter's novelisation.
The reviewer was one Gary Russell, who has become one of the more interesting writers in the BBC books canon. Russell is not an innovator in the Paul Cornell/Lawrence Miles mode, but he generally draws convincing plots and plausible characters, while possessing an admirable awareness of the distinctive qualities that distinguished Dr. Who's many and varied eras.
Business Unusual is a novel in which Russell draws heavily on the themes and sub-texts of The Invasion and the whole early-UNIT feel of the TV series, and sets them against the larger-than-life figure of the Sixth Doctor. It generally succeeds in this goal, and gives us a more gripping Sixth Doctor story than most TV attempts. Having said that, I can't help recalling Russell's reaction to Marter's Invasion, and concluding that he's written a brave attempt to out-Marter Ian Marter.
Business Unusual features Cyber-technology (and cybernetically augmented management types), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (albeit in Mawdryn Undead mode and locked in a cupboard for most of the book), the Nestene Consciousness, Autons, and overt depictions of the kind of gratuitous violence and "body horror" which Marter's Invasion really only signposted a couple of times.
The plot is straight out of the Quatermass 2/Invasion/Spearhead/Ambassadors story bible... Sixth Doctor arrives in Brighton in 1989 and finds sinister goings-on at a computer company (SeneNet), whose Managing Director is Not What He Seems, and who has also abducted an old friend (the Brigadier). All of which recalls the Second Doctor arriving in London in 1975 (or was it 1968?) and finding sinister goings-on at a computer company (International Electromatics) whose MD is Not What He Seems, and who has also abducted an old friend (Travers surrogate Professor Watkins). Both MDs are of the "my body may be cybernetic but my brain remains human" variety. Instead of The Invasion's luckless Security Chief Packer we get an altogether more sinister heavy called Mr. Jones, whose hobbies apparently include rounding up cybernetic-conversion fodder in singles bars.
The SeneNet (Nestene, geddit?) Managing Director is assisted by an especially horrible specimen by the name of Dr. Krafchin. Krafchin is the Nestene representative, the Channing analogue, in Business Unusual... although she is infinitely more baroque than Spearhead from Space's softly sinister killer accountant. Krafchin is a tall, obese woman looking "more like the librarian from hell than anyone medical". She is responsible for running "The Hospital," a SeneNet shopfront, which is billed as "Europe's Leading Centre for Prosthetic and Reconstructive Surgery". As in reconstructing people in new and gruesome ways (more on this later).
Unfortunately, the book's scariest character enters the fray in the back third of the action, so she ends up being rather under-used. This is a shame, as the SeneNet Managing Director is yet another bland killer yuppie type, despite the potentially interesting subplot of his being a malfunctioning cyborg desperate for a new (Auton) body.
We are also introduced to some nasty Japanese businessmen (who seem to have been thick on the ground in Brighton in 1989, here and in The Nightmare Fair), and a pair of weirdos by the names of Ciara and Cellian who remained a thoroughly confusing couple until All Was Revealed about them about 10 pages from the back of the book. Which means, I suppose, that they were under-used also.
Other supporting characters include SeneNet receptionist Roberta, who has had her legs removed by Dr. Krafchin and gets around "with her torso grafted on to a small electric chair," a la Kenneth Branagh in "Wild Wild West, or Davros as outfitted by IKEA. We are given a bit of her back story, which throws in a hefty dose of pathos (she was picked up in a bar by Jones and then handed straight to Krafchin for "alteration"), but this character seems to have been included for sheer shock! horror! value and is casually gunned down by Lethbridge-Stewart during the novel's hasty conclusion. (This is really all the Brigadier gets to do in this novel, apart from getting locked up and escaping). Thirty-three years after The Invasion, and nearly 17 after Marter's novelisation, and we're still in subtle-funeral-balloons territory.
We are also introduced to one of the more annoying TV companions, Melanie Bush. The sympathetic write-up Mel gets here in no way detracts from the sheer dreadfulness of Bonnie Langford's TV portrayal of her. (Exactly how much did this character cause the mass ratings drop-offs that doomed the show in the late '80s?)
The Sixth Doctor comes over amazingly well. We are given, I think, a genuine glimpse of what Colin Baker might have done with the role had he been given the lifeline of some decent scripts. (And a costume not made in a quilting bee, I might add). This is one of the aims of the novel, as outlined by Russell in his short introduction, and he has surely achieved this.
The Sixth Doctor is witty, mercurial, forceful, passionate... characteristics that dire scripts like Attack of the Cybermen and Trial of a Timelord attempted to convey in garish, one-dimensional terms. Colin Baker was one of the best all-round actors to take on the role of the Doctor, but was failed by a never-ending series of half-baked scripts, terrible production values, and a BBC bureaucracy apparently hellbent on euthanizing the series. Here, we see a Doctor at the top of his form: the Sixth incarnation as he should have been played, or would have, had we scripts enough and time.
Varos and Revelation aside, I think Business Unusual presents the Sixth Doctor as well as we can hope to see him, and thankfully omits any gratuitous "Valeyard" continuity references.
There's nothing earth-shattering about Business Unusual... it's simply a good read and an attempted rehabilitation of a sometimes unfairly-maligned Doctor. And, perhaps, a tacit admission by Gary Russell that there were some worthwhile things in an otherwise overlong romp.
A Review by Finn Clark 27/1/03
All these years I've misunderstood Business Unusual. When I first read it in 1997, I hated it. Now I think it's entirely about the character interactions of the Doctor, Melanie Bush, Trey Korte and the ongoing characters from Scales of Injustice. It's easy to criticise the plot (which is twaddle), but almost beside the point. The storyline's so trivial and shallow that it makes itself irrelevant. Business Unusual is about its characters - and those Gary Russell writes rather well.
It helped that I read this straight after Scales of Injustice (and I'll be starting Instruments of Darkness as soon as I finish this review). It works much better as part two of a series than it does as a standalone novel. It's a bright and breezy read, letting one zoom past the familiar faces without worrying about the plot. And those familiar faces are plentiful... we start with Ciara, Cellian and the Stalker, then jump straight to the Brigadier! (Admittedly this time it's a maths-teaching Brigadier at the end of his career, but even that's not without poignancy.) There's a return for Mr Jones (aka. the nameless "blond man" from the original) with a third (!) explanation of how he killed his wife. There's even a mention of Carol Bell on p11 which will surprise anyone who's read Face of the Enemy, but since it hadn't been published when Gary wrote Business Unusual I think we can forgive that one.
And it's funny! This 6th Doctor is a delight, perhaps a little overdone vocabulary-wise but always worth a smile. His relationship with Mel is well done and the Pease Pottage lass herself is as excellent as always on the page. (I've noted before that the most acclaimed TV companions often don't shine in novels, and vice-versa.) It's warm and funny. What more could you want?
(If you're looking for further comedy, look no further than the BBC proofreading. According to p99, the Doctor is an alien from another plant. The cover is also ghastly, with a nasty little hand-drawn wolf crudely superimposed above an undersized headshot of Colin Baker.)
The continuity is mostly legitimate sequelising of Scales of Injustice, and the exceptions can be quite clever. Mel is given a bat phobia (presumably to explain a scene in Time and the Rani). It took me until Instruments of Darkness to spot that one, but I chuckled when I did. The Master's scheme for evil (which the Doctor has defeated before the book begins) is pretty ridiculous, but somehow it seems appropriate for such a gentle novel as this. The Master's been made to look sillier than this. In a horrible way, it's in character.
But the plot... dearie me. I don't want to spend too much time on't, but suffice to say that half the book has passed before anyone does anything of interest. The good guys spend almost all the time: (a) dealing with unrelated matters, (b) eating food, (c) having charming character moments, or (d) locked up. We're well past the hundred-page mark before the Doctor even becomes aware that something's wrong. The book's main threat is an anticlimax. (We hardly learn about it before it's gone again.)
Occasionally this hurts the characters. The Brigadier gets some good scenes with Erskine, but one can't help thinking that he'd have been better served by a more active role. But it's rare in Doctor Who for characters to be defined by little, mundane actions rather than death-defying ones, so I found it in me to forgive this. I can see why I hated Business Unusual back in 1997, but it's enjoyable if you approach it in the right spirit. On TV this would have been a two-parter, but a charming one.
S-Mel-ly by Jason A. Miller 18/1/04
Business Unusual opens with the brutal murder of a private investigator on the grounds of a shady software multi-national. He's ripped to shreds by the jaws of a dog infected with the green sludge from the Doctor Who TV story, Inferno. The second scene shows our old TV friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, is taken prisoner by the same company. That scene goes on for several pages, just so author Gary Russell can spend time in the Brigadier's head and reminisce about old UNIT friends. Before page 10, then, we've gotten updates on Sergeant Benton, Captain Yates, and even that old stalwart, Corporal Bell (and if you know who that is... boy, you're some fan!). Most of what we learn contradicts what we were told in The Left-Handed Hummingbird, but so what? None of the info is ever mentioned again.
Business Unusual is also the sequel to two Doctor Who stories from the Pertwee era. Not only that, but it's also a follow-up to The Scales of Injustice, another Brigadier adventure from Gary Russell . There are, in addition, references to The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis, Inferno, Day of the Daleks, The Androids of Tara. Many of the book's incidental characters (and one of its major ones) are named after friends of the author, so if you're plugged into Doctor Who Fandom, or go to conventions in the U.S., you'll recognize those names.
The raison d'etre of Business Unusual is not the returning human villain, or the returning alien menace, or the returning old friends. It's actually meant to do two things: 1) soften the edges off the 6th Doctor (Colin Baker), by ramping up the character's gentle eccentricities, and toning down the violence and callous attitude; and 2) provide a "proper" introduction for the companion Mel, first shown on TV during the Trial of a Time Lord season with no explanation as to how she and the Doctor met.
The toned-down Doctor is the book's significant development: as head honcho of the Big Finish Doctor Who audios, Russell got to reinvent the Sixth Doctor and sell him to a more receptive audience. Business Unusual is his template: we have a more ruminative Doctor, one who gets to use the bombastic language preferred by Colin Baker on TV; but he's also more apt to keep out of the action, befriend cute children, and eat. A lot. Therefore, the Doctor stumbles upon the main plot entirely by accident -- he spots a Government-printed personal ad summoning the missing Brigadier, after buying a newspaper to read over breakfast.
As for Mel... we not only meet Mel, but her entire family and her friends, too. We see her at work. We see her prowling the kitchen at 6 AM in search of "peach and passionfruit tea" (whaaa?). We see her harrassing colleagues into going to the gym, and telling the Doctor to lose weight. Russell has genuine affection for Mel and Bonnie Langford -- as he does for the Doctor and Colin Baker -- but you need to keep that in mind at all times while reading the book. Otherwise you won't be able to sustain much sympathy for Mel at all. That said, Mel on TV never deserved her bad rap (she and Baker had great chemistry), so it is nice to see someone make a good-faith try at rounding her out.
There is one very interesting awkward scene with Mel's mother and their gay American boarder -- after it's discovered, simultaneously, that the boy is both gay, and psychic. That's Business Unusual's lone effort at actual human drama. The rest of the book is the good guys being terribly polite to each other, and the bad guys being terribly sadistic to everyone else. The down-home family business meshes oddly with the copious body horror (severed limbs, abducted boyfriends and parents, graphic death scenes).
In other words, Business Unusual is about eleven books in one. It's a little jarring. I think it was meant to be genial ("fluffy", if you will) -- a love-in about the Doctor and Mel and the Brigadier and Detective Lines (who, even though he's an invention of Russell, is supposed to be accepted as one of the Doctor's very best friends on Earth). However, it's also really, really gross.
Business Usual!!! by Joe Ford 8/8/05
The mad completist in me has finally been released and I visited London recently with a list of the missing Virgin and BBC books on my bookshelf. It's almost as if I want to experience pain... I returned home with Divided Loyalties, The Pit, Parasite, Transit and The Ghosts of N-Space. And Business Unusual was waiting on my doorstep when I got home, my latest purchase from E-bay.
If only I had known what I was letting myself in for...
I am a huge fan of the sixth Doctor and before reading this book the idea of a story featuring a less violent, more fun sixth Doctor meeting Melanie Bush for the first time and battling the Nestene Consciousness sounds like it could be a lot of fun. If you had told me it was set in the heart of Sussex featuring Brighton, Pease Pottage, Ashdown Forest, etc I would have been even more excited as this is where I have grown up and I'm sure everybody loves the idea of a Doctor Who story set on their home soil. I am fairly certain there is a good Doctor Who story to be written around these elements but Business Unusual is not it.
My warning signs started going off very early on when Gary Russell affords a lavish and homo-erotic description of the buff, tanned, well nippled Trey Korte. Brighton as I am sure anybody who has visited is aware is a town where much of the homosexual population of England converge on Saturday nights (including myself) and rock the night away but this is not a side of it I want to see in Doctor Who story without any good reason. Bad Therapy exploited gay nightlife by revealing its illicit and dangerous atmosphere in the homophobic fifties, it felt as though it had something to say about gay life and it enhanced the flavour of an already strong character novel. The romance between the gorgeous Trey Korte and the geeky, awkward Joe Hambridge adds nothing to this story and frankly feels shoehorned into the story because the author likes the idea that American woofters could pop over to Britain and fall for hideous-looking Brits. I am fairly certain these scenes were supposed to be cute and I am being far too harsh but neither character has any personality, their romance is practically forgotten about after being introduced and it genuinely feels like the author is indulging himself.
I was further tempted to vomit at the author's attempts to soften up the sixth Doctor. I cannot be the only person on this planet who genuinely likes the sixth Doctor on the television. I enjoyed his temper tantrums and vicious solutions to problems; it certainly set him up apart from the rest of the crowd. Business Unusual decides to recreate this character as somebody the audience can enjoy reading about and go "ahhhh" when he does something sweet. Cue scenes of the Doctor lifting a little girl onto his knee, wiggling her ickle-wickle nose and telling her Santa Claus is real. Cue scenes of the Doctor at Mel's house cooking up breakfast and telling her that she has a lovely life in middle class Pease Pottage and he would love to stay here himself (WHAT?). Cue scenes of the Doctor aiding the police force of Brighton to foil an off-screen adventure with the Master, expressing his love for the Brigadier and welcoming Mel into his life with open arms despite the novel reminding us at every opportunity what it will lead to. This is supposed to be the sort of story Colin Baker would like to star in? The Doctor doesn't contribute anything useful to the book until the climax! He honestly doesn't do anything but swap banter and stuff his face until page 180! What is wrong with having a Doctor who is unpredictable and violent? I would rather read about that bastard than this fluffy teddy bear Gary Russell seems to think he should be.
Mel, on the other hand, is pitch perfect. Which is also a huge problem because I wanted to reach into the book on several occasions and tear the face off this prissy, middle class bitch. Whilst Big Finish have gone to some considerable lengths to repair Mel's character from season twenty-four by offering her some decent development and stories Business Unusual gives you exactly what you would imagine Mel's background to be. A stuck up cow from a bland, well off, middle class family. The sort who has her education sown up before she even starts and says "Mummy" and "Daddy" before insulting her parents. Should the PDAs really be sticking to the TV series in such detail if it leads to such an irritating character as this? You have to give Gary some credit for his research, he must have watched all of Mel's stories over and over considering how perfect he gets her speech; overdone, with heavy emphasis everywhere as though she was in panto trying to get across the importance to all the kiddies.
This could have been marvellous, I'm certain of it. The Doctor is terrified of meeting Mel because he knows it is the first step towards committing genocide in the Vervoid adventure. Really, does the Doctor really need to make up such excuses to want to avoid travelling with Mel? Of course if it had been you and me, we would have left the Earth the second we saw Mel. But no he stays, and as coincidences would have it, her gay mate just so happens to faint in front of him. The Doctor is braver than this, I think to make this book an easier read (and to make him seem less stupid) we should just accept that he wanted to face his destiny and get it over with.
Is there a plot? I kept looking out for it amongst all the "character" moments but gave up about halfway through. And then as if to spite me the Doctor is suddenly up to speed on page 182 and we are in the midst of a full on Nestene Consciousness invasion! Gosh! Where did that come from? And I thought Rose and Synthespians took a while to get to the point! And what do we get... homicidal computer games and deadly toy dinosaurs? Sheesh! At least Craig Hinton had the nerve to including exploding breast implants. Killing children in order to throw the planet into chaos and thus pave the way for an Auton invasion... yaaawwwn. Some Doctor Who writers treat the series and the fans with such little respect you have to wonder why they bother to write at all. This is just a checklist of things you would expect from a Doctor Who story rather than a good, original story in its own right. It is tired, lazy and predictable and really, really annoying.
The book is full of spelling mistakes and punctuation errors too, as though the editors are trying to increase the irritation. The cover is absolutely hideous and is there a reason why the page layout is so small? There is a good inch either side of the text! Gary's prose isn't awful and in places it is quite acceptable but you have to be writing about something vaguely interesting to find the writing itself fun.
I have rarely read a Doctor Who book that felt this lethargic. It takes ages for anything to happen and when it does it's hardly a thrill. It's an author taking his audience for granted and tossing them a few half edible scraps, expecting them to be satisfied with what they've got. The saddest thing about Business Unusual is that it is an atrociously thought out book, boring as hell and full of irritating scenes and it isn't Gary Russell's worst novel.
The poor guy.
A Review by Steve White 2/5/13
I've always had a certain affinity for the 6th Doctor. Don't get me wrong, he isn't my favourite, but I've always found myself feeling a little bit sorry for him and his treatment by his writers and the BBC. Likewise, Mel suffered similarly, and although she was far more annoying than the 6th Doctor, she still didn't really get the chance to shine, or even get a proper introduction. Therefore I was looking forward to reading Business Unusual as not only does the 6th Doctor usually fare better in novel form, but it gives Mel her introduction. Oh, and the Brigadier is in it too.
Business Unusual starts with the Doctor resolving an issue with the Master with an old friend Detective Inspector Bob Lines. He needs a human computer programmer to finish it off though, which sets up his meeting with Mel. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Mel and her family and her gay friend Trey as well as catching up with the Brigadier who is investigating the enemy who are acting dodgy and killing people. Whilst it is all fairly interesting, it isn't really gripping and all feels a bit tenuous for my liking.
Anyway, the story rumbles on and it appears the unnamed enemy are searching for physic humans and during the brain scan find out the Doctor is on Earth. They also are building a gaming console that is far in advance of the current Earth technology. At a third of the way through the book, nothing else has happened. The Doctor isn't even aware of the enemy plot, which makes the book feel very slow going. Luckily, from the third mark, the story does pick up the pace and becomes far easier to read as a result.
The story isn't bad, but it really isn't that good either. Business Unusual is a book about the characters, not really about the story. It seems there are lots of different elements going on at the same time and there is just too much that ruins the story that could be.
Another critique is that the book is written without chapters, but split into days, with the various paragraphs titled with an X-Files style "July 31st 1989: 16.59pm Ashdown Forest" heading. This serves little to no purpose other than to seemingly add more words. The space would have been better used to actually tie up some of the loose ends, or give characters some meaning.
There is no denying that it is the 6th Doctor you are reading about, and Gary Russell has his arrogance and bullishness down to a charm. He also gives him a softer, kinder side (like cooking a healthy breakfast for Mel), which was lacking in the TV show. All in all, a very good characterization of the 6th Doctor. Sadly, Mel and the Brigadier don't do as well.
The issue with Mel is that she is annoying in the extreme. She isn't overly nice to her mum, her friends, or her work colleagues and comes across as having a "holier than thou" attitude to everyone. She was annoying on the TV, she is annoying in this book and I don't think she possesses one likeable quality. I had hoped that Gary Russell would have made her a better companion, but instead he resorts to the Mel we know and loathe from the TV which does the book little favours.
As for the Brigadier, he gets captured far too easily, and then spends the vast majority of the book locked up and not enough time with the Doctor. He has his good bits, but he does feel shoe-horned in to get a 6th Doctor and the Brigadier story. I'd much rather this meeting happen in a different novel and actually give them chance to work together.
The remaining cast are all fairly uninteresting and unassuming, with the exception of the pale man and Ciara & Cellian who make a second appearance, having previously been in the novel The Scales of Injustice. I do like authors who have ongoing characters and storylines of their own intertwined with Doctor Who, and whilst not as good as Lawrence Miles, Gary Russell does do well with these 3. It is also worth mentioning that you needn't have read The Scales of Injustice to enjoy this book. I also like the way the reader sees the name "SeneNet", which instantly makes them assume "Nestene" and the way Gary Russell builds on this throughout the novel, only to pull what we assume from under us. Then, once that has been pulled from under us, it's changed again and it is the Nestenes. In short, Business Unusual is a run-of-the-mill 6th Doctor adventure that wouldn't have seemed out of place in Series 24 of the TV show, had Colin Baker not been given the boot. It takes a while to get going, but when it does it is a fairly enjoyable novel, but totally forgettable.