Cat's Cradle Series
Cat's Cradle Part Two
|ISBN#||0 426 20367 4|
|Synopsis: In the all too near future of earth, the chief executive of the amoral Butler Institute is planning the salvation of the wealthy elite while the Earth faces its imminent destruction. The Doctor must assemble a deadly weapon in order to stop him and save Earth.|
A Review by Keith Bennett 13/9/98
When I first read this book, I hated it. Of course, the New Adventures were.. um... well, new back then and I, like others, were wondering how they would progress and what style they would show. It also had followed Paul Cornell's Timewyrm: Revelation, which I found relatively unenjoyable and rather absurd, and Marc Platt's Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, which was even worse! So having just slogged through two difficult books, and then to come up against this one was not a very exciting proposition, especially as it had me worrying that all future Doctor Who books would be in this vain.
Well, I've just finished reading it for a second time, and since I now know that not all New (or Missing) Adventures are the same, I have been able to appreciate Andrew Cartmel's debut somewhat more.
But not much more.
Granted, it is better written than Platt's effort, and I'm trying to make allowances for the "traditionalist" that I am, and accept the different in style from "normal" Doctor Who. I accept, more than I used to, the seventh Doctor loves to make plans, set up traps, etc. But that doesn't mean I particularly like it. His smug appearances throughout the story, with everything going according to plan almost without a hitch, makes we want to misquote Barbara Wright's comment about Susan in An Unearthly Child: "It gets to the point sometimes when I deliberately want to trip him up!" But it's the whole style of Cartmel's writing that makes the book so offputting for me.
I have this strange, and maybe old fashioned desire for something known as dialogue. You know... Speech. And the distinct lack of people actually talking to each other here is one of the hardest things to deal with. There is a period in the book of about thirty pages where hardly a word is spoken. Part of this has Ace almost wordlessly meeting her fellow fighters, which is followed by her walking down the street, having dinner, going to where she's staying, having a shower, going to bed, getting up... Now I know Ace was with Turkish people there, so there was little that could be said between them, but that doesn't stop the whole experience from being a weary read. And do we really need to follow every step she takes? What did we learn about her from it? It all makes The Doctor and Ace seem so distant, and everyone seems to move as if in a dream. The supporting characters (or are The Doc and Ace the supporting characters?) are not so distant, but neither are they terribly interesting or appealling. The book has its moments, particularly in the action sequences, but not enough to compensate for the rest of it, and Justine's drug-induced hallucinations towards the end of the story are just plain unpleasant.
The story itself is not bad, but Cartmel takes such an depressingly long time to get into it, with numerous emotional noodlings and endless descriptions (similar to Platt's Crucible) that it is, for me, a long, tiring and cumbersome read. Maybe it's just me and I'm too dumb to appreciate just a style, and I thought maybe I could have been unfair after one reading. But now I've had two, and I think that's given it a decent enough chance. 3/10
A Review by Finn Clark 25/2/01
I've just reread Cat's Cradle: Warhead, almost a decade after its original release. I first read it back then and didn't like it much. However I adore Cartmel's sequels, Warlock and Warchild, so I guessed that a good chunk of that initial reaction might have been expectation and my teenage shortcomings as a reader. Picking up Warhead this morning, I half expected to be astonished by an amazing work of SF which I'd failed to appreciate at the time. In the end, I was and I wasn't. The book was basically as I remembered it, but fortunately I was prepared for the unlikeable bits and so I enjoyed rediscovering its good qualities.
Let's get the main charge out of the way first. Cat's Cradle: Warhead is a charmless and unremittingly grim book that doesn't feel like Doctor Who. It's not the absence of the Doctor. We've seen far worse in the BBC's Eighth Doctor books; at least Andrew Cartmel's shadowy manipulator is impressive and in control during his rare onstage appearances. It's the book's tone which feels wrong. Warhead doesn't crack a joke, or even smile. There's none of the quirkiness or wit that we associate with Doctor Who. Even Terminus was more light-hearted. This isn't Doctor Who, but simply an SF novel that happens to contain the Doctor.
I can forgive the incidental characters for being a bunch of fucked-up bastards. I can even forgive the Doctor for being the unseen puppetmaster who's so busy pulling everyone's strings that he never gets to dazzle us with his charm, oddities and wordplay. It's like having Ernst Stavro Blofeld as your hero. He's simply above such mundane concerns as confronting bad guys and outwitting lackeys. No, where I felt the book really missed its mark was with Ace. Her scenes in Turkey are just hard to read. They're macho, they're unpleasant and they make you want to put the book down and go do something more enjoyable.
Benny, Chris and Roz were better suited to Cartmel's style in Warlock and Warchild. Hell, I can name plenty of TV companions who would have worked better - Romana, Mel, Jamie, Leela (heh, that would have been a laugh). Ace is just a fucked-up teenager and it's no fun seeing her being put through all this.
This time around, I was prepared for that. The good news is that beneath all this grimness is some very fine writing indeed. The world of Warhead is superbly realised and full of deliciously horrible details. As an SF novel, it's very fine indeed. It has some thought-provoking reflections on the Doctor's nature and a bit near the end that (as has been pointed out elsewhere) reads strangely like a Genesis of the Cybermen. It kept me reading, which is more than I can normally say for a grim novel full of bastards. It might not feature the Doctor as much as other books, but it's very much about him. Put aside your preconceptions and there's much in Warhead to admire, though I don't think it's as good as its sequels. It's not really about anything, as they were, and its Doctor-companion team is less suited to Cartmel's storytelling.
But the weirdest thing about Warhead for me was the timewarped experience of being sucked back to 1992 and the Virgin vision of Doctor Who. The BBC would never have commissioned this plot! There's no villain, no bad guy for the Doctor to confront and outwit. The entire story is about the Doctor painstakingly assembling an ultimate weapon which inevitably screws up at the end. There's something almost gleeful about Cartmel's utter repudiation of all the Doctor Who formulae. (The maturity of the writing is some way above what the BBC has sometimes appeared to permit, too.) Even the blurbs at the back are a mindbending experience, like watching adverts on a tape you recorded off the television in 1986.
TIME'S CRUCIBLE, by Marc Platt... "a strange, haunting story that shows an Ace changed beyond all recognition and reveals something of the history and development of Gallifrey and of time travel."
WITCH MARK, by Andrew Hunt... "a marvellous science fiction story disguised under the cloak of fantasy."
Compare that with the perceived selling points of the BBC's initial run. It's a far cry from The Eight Doctors and The Ultimate Treasure, isn't it? I've got a theory that the BBC and Virgin books would have been better received if they'd swapped places. The BBC's output would have delighted the TV-oriented fans of the early nineties, while five years later our expectations would have been raised sufficiently for us to appreciate the good points of the early Virgin run. Ah well. Que sera sera.
Oh, but one thing irritated the hell out of me. The cat. Aboard the TARDIS we've now had the silver moggy of the Cat's Cradle series, Wolsey later in the NAs and that miaowing bastard the Doctor acquired in (I think) Legacy of the Daleks. What is it with cats in the novels? I can only say that several years ago for me it passed beyond "aww, look at ickle fluffikins" into "Jesus wept, not another fucking cat". I thank you.
Ace naked in a hot tub by Ed Swatland 27/5/01
To say that I enjoyed this book would be an understatement. I LOVED it. Andrew Cartmel’s writing was extremely mature and focused, the plot was smooth and flowing and the way all the characters came together at the end was wonderfully done. The characters were so realistic and fitted in perfectly with the confusing but gripping story.
I read this book in two and a half hours and just couldn’t put it down. It was really gripping and was interesting because it wasn’t like any Doctor Who novel I had read before, in fact it wasn’t like Doctor Who at all. I don’t really know what to say about this book, but I’ll try and review as best I can.
This story is actually too simple to have been told in a normal straightforward style like that of The Pit for example. There isn't enough to it, but through the winding and twisting narrative, at times joining scenes in the middle of the action, the reader is hooked on the magnificent style and skill of the book. The writing from page one is marvellously dark, mysterious, and intriguing. Everything is carefully designed to keep the reader confused but engaged. That’s no easy task, but Mr Cartmel pulls it off brilliantly.
As I say the characters were all so realistic and had perfectly realised backgrounds. How the author created the entire setting was extremely clever and he kept the reader guessing throughout. But the only quibble I have with the book was what happened in the drugstore, it was very confusing, but exciting nonetheless. Like me, you’ll probably miss a hell of a lot the first time round, so it deserves a second reading.
The Doctor was even more manipulative and dark than he has ever been before. The first few chapters were about him popping up and subtly influencing other characters. However my favourite part of the novel was Ace’s sojourn in Turkey. Marvellously written. And she killed someone - this was obviously a turning point for Ace’s character and will lead us appropriately into Deceit...
This book has had bad press from many “trad” fans, but I loved this book and it was certainly my favourite read of the month and maybe the year. This is possibly the most generous review given to Warhead I’ve read, except on TERMINUS reviews. You trads will probably disagree with everything I’ve just said, it may be slightly grim; buts it’s complex, intriguing and ultimately revolutionary to Doctor Who fiction.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 11/2/02
The future is a grim place in Cat's Cradle: Warhead. Breathing is difficult without the use of special masks. Police silently patrol the night streets in their hovercars. Shady corporations comb the local parks and sidewalks looking for unclaimed bodies (some still living) to perform dastardly experiments upon. Only one man and his contractually obligated silver cat can save the human race from itself.
We hadn't really seen a desolate future portrayed in quite this realistic fashion before in Doctor Who. Apart from the constant bleak sense of a world gone sour, we also see elements of cyberpunk cropping up here and there. While this aspect isn't as overplayed as one might fear, it does cast a fairly long shadow over the tone and feel of the book. The writing is particularly powerful in places and some of the scenes are surprisingly chilling. There are loads of little asides and passages that make the book spellbinding. It's an extremely well written tale.
The first part of the book deals with the pieces of the puzzle. At first it's not altogether clear how these different sections interrelate to each other. It's quite fun to work out what's going on. A name crops up from an earlier section, a scene links from something that was referenced to earlier. When you finally do figure out what's happening, it's quite rewarding. Personally, I loved putting all of those pieces together. Many times during reading I was finding myself flipping backwards and forwards impressed by the ease in which Andrew Cartmel made everything fit together just so. The Doctor's presence hovers over the many passages that he is absent for. Even during the fairly long stretches where he isn't to be seen, his fingerprints are visible. The plot is careful and calculated, with a lot of attention to detail.
Fortunately, the second part of the book also maintains a high quality of the first. Naturally, the Doctor's plan doesn't seem to unravel quite as expected, so rather than the plot falling into a predictable format, there is still an element of surprise to be had. The future that we had glimpsed in the earlier portions is fleshed out more here. Parts of the story here are trippy and mess with your head in the best possible way.
One of the few things I didn't like about the story was the seemingly shallow portrayal of the main villain. We don't really learn too much about him, about his plans, or about his motivations. But most importantly, we don't really find out why it is that the Doctor is so hell-bent on making sure that his schemes are defeated; we just have to take it on faith. Sure, putting people's souls inside machines to avoid the responsibility of having to clean up the environment does seem to be a bit shortsighted, but it doesn't quite carry the assumed weight that one would expect. It feels a bit of a let down after seeing the Doctor's intricate plan.
Overall, this is one of the better Doctor Who books. The prose is captivating, the story is unpredictable, yet seamlessly logical, and the Doctor has never been more powerful. Warhead demands multiple rereads.
A Review by Clive Walker 22/5/02
Andrew Cartmel's Warhead (let's drop the Cat's Cradle from the start - there is no trilogy here in any meaningful sense) is set on an Earth of the near future where mankind has all but destroyed the environment through pollution, and violent crime is endemic. A ruthless businessman, John O'Hara, is developing technology that will enable humans to give up their bodies entirely by transferring their mind into a computer. The Doctor, knowing that once this is achieved there will be no hope of mankind ever cleaning up the environment, devises a plan. He needs to assemble a powerful weapon for which he needs two young people, Vincent and Justine.
Warhead has been described as "cyberpunk". Not being familiar with that particular genre I can't say whether that is a fair description, but this is certainly a tough, gritty, relentlessly macho thriller that actually works quite well in its own terms. Unfortunately it is much less successful as a Doctor Who novel.
The story is structured as a series of set pieces with the Doctor flitting in and out of the action weaving together the various threads of his plan. This is the "mysterious Doctor" that Cartmel cultivated during his time as Script Editor with the TV show. Even the Doctor's means of transport is left ambiguous here. At one point the Doctor leaves the character, Maria, and walks round a corner. She then sees "a blast of blue light" and hears "a sound she couldn't describe", after which, when she peers round the corner, the Doctor is gone. This ought to be a description of the TARDIS taking off, except that it is later made clear that the Doctor's craft has been out of commission for months. So is the Doctor using magic now, or is this, perhaps, meant to be the Doctor, pre-Time's Crucible, putting the pieces of his plan into place?
I find the "Man of Mystery" routine somewhat irritating, but it is, at worst, a distraction. What is far more unacceptable is a Doctor who strays so far into amorality that he verges on the immoral.
This is a Doctor who refuses Maria's plea to "Take me with you" because she knew what went on in the King Building and did nothing. She is just a cleaner and she's dying, but Cartmel's Doctor appears to lack either compassion or any capacity for forgiveness. This is a Doctor who is happy to use the child killer Bobby Prescott and then leave him to be murdered by a gang of street kids that the Doctor himself has hired. The Doctor should never condone murder, least of all by children, whatever the sins of the victim.
Most fundamentally, perhaps, this is a Doctor who is prepared to use Vincent and Justine as his weapon of destruction, putting their lives in extreme danger in the process. If this were the only available option then it might be acceptable but it is, in fact, entirely unclear why he needs to use the pair at all. Unless I've missed something the Doctor's aim is simply to destroy O'Hara's computer facility. He usually manages this sort of thing without too much difficulty and certainly without playing God with people's lives. One is therefore left with the impression that Cartmel's Doctor is manipulating people simply because he can.
Ace is similarly unrecognisable from the petulant, insecure teenager of the TV show and the earlier New Adventures. Suddenly she is a sophisticated gun-toting adult quite comfortable travelling alone around Turkey liaising with Kurdish terrorist groups. I'm all for character development. Ace needed it badly and there had been signs of her starting to grow up in the previous two novels. This, though, is not so much development as a complete character transplant.
There is actually a lot that is good about Warhead. Cartmel is an accomplished writer. His vision of a bleak future is frightening and all too believable. Each of the original characters in this novel, some of whom appear only for a few pages, is rendered three dimensional and utterly convincing (although they are also, almost without exception, utterly unlikeable!). The action scenes too are well written, taut and exciting.
Ultimately though I can't help feeling that this would have been a better novel freed from the constraints of the Doctor Who franchise. I don't have a problem with Who novels being tough, gritty, violent and tackling controversial issues. The Doctor himself, however, should always be a moral figure and here I feel that he behaves little better than those that he is striving to defeat. I can't bring myself to give Warhead more than 6/10.
A Review by Rob Matthews 3/7/02
The odd thing about Andrew Cartmel's three-year tenure as script editor for the television series is that he never authored an actual script for it. This is pretty anomalous when you consider that even those script editors who were only at the helm for one season, like Douglas Adams and Christopher Bidmead, managed to crystallise their own vision for the show during their respective stays, in little nuggets like City of Death and Logopolis. Luckily, Cartmel presided over some talented writers who could easily have been script editors for the show themselves - Aaronovitch and Platt (sounds like a Robert Holmes double act) standing out as the most obvious. He had a richer vein of talent at his disposal, anyway, than that which was available to his predecessor Eric Saward - of all the original script writers of his era (as opposed to old hands like Holmes and Bidmead), Saward was the strongest. Imagine a Doctor Who season helmed by Pip & Jane Baker or Phillip Martin and shudder... Cartmel, however, didn't seem to feel the need to prove himself to the viewers as he had to John Nathan-Turner, and managed with his team to create a highly distinctive era of televised Doctor Who.
Reading Cat's Cradle: Warhead convinced me further of his talent as a script editor. Turns out he didn't need to write any one story for those two-and-two-quarters seasons, because his own creative personality was manifested in all of them. The book is pretty much a compendium of themes and motifs from seasons 24 to 26; the grim and retarded near-future of Paradise Towers, with its teen gang warfare, the suffocating industrial pollution alluded to in Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric, the odd obsession with Norse mythology from Fenric and Greatest Show (manifested here in the form of airships called Odin, missiles called Ragnarok), the literally 'cold' villain of Dragonfire, the Doctor's scheming and weapon-assembling from Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis, the leftwing political angle from, well, most of the stories (it was perhaps most significant plotwise in The Happiness Patrol), and of coure the lack of TARDIS interior scenes (I believe it was a conscious decision by Cartmel to keep these to a minimum?). The only really prominent thing missing is the mysterious-Ancient-Gallifrey stuff, which suggests to me that that really came from Aaronovitch and Platt, while Cartmel himself would have been happy to stick with his original plan of 'forget the Master, forget the Time Lords' and going back to the idea of a wanderer in space. Indeed, you just have to compare Warhead with its Cats Cradle sibling Time's Crucible to see the difference in approach.
And yet, having read the book, I still don't have much idea of how an Andrew Cartmel Doctor Who script would play. Scripts are about dialogue and there's not a huge amount of it in this book.
However, the fact is that it is a book, and I was pleasantly surprised at how graceful a prose writer Cartmel is. He's very good at slipping the rug out from beneath you, letting you realise only gradually what's actually going on in a scene, as opposed to what seems to be going on, yet at the same time not punching you in the face with it. The chilling scene where O'Hara sits on the hillside talking to his wife is a case in point. And Cartmel follows the rhythms of consciousness in a way that's difficult to do without getting selfconsciously lurid. There are a lot of altered states of consciousness in this book - appropriately, given what the story is about -, some induced by drugs, some by exhaustion and sleep deprivation. But his prose slips into them easily and naturally, it inhabits the minds and bodies of the characters. Much of it feels like events experienced rather than described. You know, showing rather than telling.
Which is an important quality in a book whose structure is this ornate and potentially alienating. To depict this dying world Cartmel isn't content just to tell us it's polluted, he makes us feel it too. He does this by having two of the opening chapters related from the point of view of a couple of it's victims, Shreela and Maria. The Doctor turns up during their last days as an eerie and rather cold figure, almost like an emissary of the angel of death, a more chilling and unforgiving character than we saw on TV.
It's an appropriately bold introduction. The little man is scary because he's bigger than us - he stretches into the future and into the past, those dark places where we cease to exist. He's beyond mortality as we understand it, something that was to be confronted magnificently over the course of the New Adventure range. I agree with criticisms that the Doctor's actions here verge on the cruel and immoral, and if this were a standalone book it would be a big problem for me. This is a Doctor who's becoming an angry old man. Again. But because the NA series expanded on this matter and dealt ultimately with the character's redemption (see Robert Smith?'s sharp analysis in his review of the Seventh Doctor [the NA rather than the TV version]), I knew reading the book that this worrying undercurrent would eventually be dealt with.
That out of the way, the problem with the Doc in this particular novel is that he has very little written personality. And it seems like most of the first half of the book is written as a build-up, like a mammoth prologue. Vincent perhaps comes into it too late, and a picky reader might find his powers rather convenient, given there's no real sign that the story is going to go down that 'psi-powers' road.
The plot itself feels dated in some ways, zinging with freshness in others. The cyberpunky technology-as-dehumanisation aspect and ecological angle feel very early nineties (of course, we've solved all those environmental problems now, he laughed dryly). Fears about cloning and genetic tinkering would probably replace the 'cybernisation' angle if the book were written today, and possibly it would be domestic terrorism rather than industrial pollution that is rendering the West uninhabitable.
Still, Cartmel's not shy about confronting these issues. His book is anti-industrial and he scatters a number of brand names throughout the text so we know exactly the kind of companies he's talking about. The man takes cautious swipes at McDonalds and Walt Disney within ten pages of each other. And he doesn't blame a nebulous right-wing political party for the resurgent racism in Maria's California, instead he blames the Republicans. It's there even in the peripheral details - the Doctor subscribes to the Mirror and not the Mail. Me, I like this direct and uncompromised approach. It's maybe naive of Cartmel to assume the readers' agreement with his beliefs, but I doubt any of us particularly want to be poisoned to death by industrial byproducts.
Still, the book isn't a grand satire. Corporate greed and the Me culture is the Doctor's target but the Doctor and his machinations are everything, and his methods are lateral to say the least. This isn't as much of a science fiction book as you might be led to believe - the Doctor's scheme relies not on, say, computer hackers or hi-tech weaponry, but instead on a young boy with magical powers. Calling it 'telekinesis' doesn't make it any more scientific, it just gives the impression that it might be, that it's something we might one day understand - after all, the Doctor knows more about science than us. Not so much suspension of disbelief as deferral of suspension of disbelief... bloody hell, I'm getting arcane.
The confrontation between Justine and Ace succinctly weighs up the science/magic themes in Doctor Who that we're still grappling with now, post-Adventuress of Henrietta Street, post-Scarlet Empress. Justine's a disturbed social outcast who believes the Doctor's a sorcerer. Ace is a disturbed social outcast who thinks he's an eccentric scientist from another planet. It's part of the Doctor's mystery; he could be either one lurking in the guise of the other. There's an unresolvable tension there, it's part of what keeps these stories going. The fact that the Doctor could orchestrate this plan is more important to the novel than the, er, peculiar logic of the plan itself.
This is a beautifully written, commendably ambitious book, give or take a bit of slightly embarrasing quasi-orgasm imagery (two teens touch each other and the world shakes, tsk). Its anger is controlled, like the Doctor's, but central to the narrative. And the Doctor is used not as a childhood nostalgia figure, but an emblem of rebellion whose worth is self-evident whatever your age. He's the epitome of polite anarchy in this book, battling an establishment that is entirely corrupt, with his awful JNT-era question mark emblem reinvented as a symbol of both power and dissent. And funnily enough, that's true to the original conception of the character, the irascible anti-establishment figure favoured by Verity Lambert. It's nice to see that idealism, and to see that the earliest pieces of original Who fiction were willing to bust so decisively out of that small screen.
A Review by Brian May 28/4/04
Cast your minds back to 1992; or whenever you first read Cat's Cradle: Warhead.
Welcome to the brave new world of Doctor Who!
Everything the Virgin publishing team envisaged for the New Adventures is here. After a few "trad" stories with small helpings of the "new" style, along with the odd experimental tale (Revelation), this book encapsulates their vision. It slaps you in the face with a pessimistic depiction of life on future Earth. Where the televised series had space travel, stellar expansion and shocking dress sense, with only the odd mention of poverty, pollution and overpopulation, Warhead pulls no punches.
Humanity has a grim future, and it's "all too near". We have the divide between rich and poor more polarised than ever. We have giant corporations running things. Gated communities, destroyed libraries, gangs, child prostitutes, mutated 20th century viruses (HIV7), people abducted for use as biostock. The backstory is described and elucidated best in chapter 3, in the thoughts of Maria Chevez; all you need to know about life in this age is contained within these pages. It's not a great time to be alive. Instead of alien invasion, humanity needs to worry about the consequences of its own actions. The rich and powerful are making plans to ensure their own survival, but not that of their planet. They intend to transpose their minds into machines, effectively achieving immortality. As Finn Clark rightly points out, they're well on the way to painting themselves silver and growing jug-handles from their ears.
Doctor Who has never been so gloomy or cynical. Strange days indeed.
But Warhead is a very bold step into the future. I've read it three times and its impact is always strong. It's mostly well written and very emotional. Andrew Cartmel, script editor of Sylvester McCoy's tenure as the Doctor, certainly has the character accurately transferred onto the written page, concentrating on the shadowy manipulator of seasons 25 and 26. Throughout the first sections of Warhead the Doctor just floats in and out of proceedings. The events in the novel are part of his design, as he shapes characters into the positions he wants them.
He sympathises with Shreela, but can't (or won't) help her. He's ruthless with Maria - "You know what goes on there... you've known for years, and you've let it happen." On the next page she is dying. As for the way he leaves Bobby Prescott to his fate - it's scary. The Doctor's mercilessness, while not entirely out of character when you consider the last few years of the televised programme, still has the capacity to shock. But some moments with him are magical - his conversations with Brodie that bookend the story are quiet and evocative. The slingshot is an obvious but effective analogy to the weapon he is creating, while the Doctor remains champion of the innocent, whom Brodie represents.
Each time I've read this book, it's always been satisfying. But I've learned not to expect a story - because there isn't one. It's simply a collection of fragmented incidents, most of them building up characters, all spiralling towards the final "confrontation". Some of them are very well pictured - the Doctor's house in Allen Road is described with a serene, otherworldly feel. It's a new haven for our adventurers and I've always enjoyed returns to this location.
Another piece I found particularly haunting was in the ruins of the burnt out McDonalds. I'm not sure why. It just evokes a true sense of the desolation that's been brought about. And, as Rob Matthews points out, Cartmel doesn't shy away from calling a spade a spade - he names the brands, the companies, the Republican Party. There's no implying. It's all out in the open.
Of course, the novel has its less than enjoyable parts. There are small bits and pieces that let things down - Ace's "adventure" in Turkey is incredibly long-winded and tedious. The general lack of dialogue helps to cause this, and her run-ins with the Kurdish mercenaries meander and go nowhere. The arguments between Ace and Justine are very uninteresting, and the latter's drug-induced hallucination with Mrs Woodcott is just gross. (Okay, sex, violence and swearing I can take, but heads rolling into urinals? Please...) And there are a few boring action scenes, namely all that business in the drugstore and car park close to the end, that wear on the patience.
Warhead is, for the most part, a character study, so it's best when we're taken into their minds. (The one exception being Ace, who Cartmel seems uncomfortable with. Sure, through his script-editorship she's grown up and endured some hard knocks, but her mission in Turkey is just too uncharacteristic. It's "New Ace" before her time.) However Justine, Vincent, O'Hara and Stephanie are extremely well portrayed, with backgrounds and motivations convincingly fleshed out. O'Hara is the chief antagonist, but he's not the villain, for this story has none (rather, the enemy is the faceless corporate demon of dehumanisation). Look at how he's prepared to let his son, Patrick, partake in the experiment; it's out of concern for his survival, yes, but survival over humanity? When he talks to his dead wife it is extremely chilling. Stephanie is ruthless and amoral, but she's just as much a victim, manipulating her way to where she wants to be to escape her circumstances.
Justine and Vincent, the lynchpins of the story, are fascinating. Vincent's recollections of his abductions add to the disturbing nature of the society humanity now lives in, while Justine is a truly haunted character. Unhappily, the cops all are a bit two-dimensional, although McIlveen's fate serves to re-emphasise what the Doctor is out to stop.
Perhaps the most traditional element of this story is the climax. For all his manipulating and engineering, in a few sentences the Doctor's plan goes wrong, but his aims are achieved more or less by accident. But this aside, the new vision for Doctor Who makes this novel a giant leap. The New Adventures have well and truly arrived, like it or not. Warhead is a good, emotionally gripping testament to this. 8.5/10
Slit your wrists time... by Joe Ford 9/5/06
Better than Time's Crucible (like that would be hard!) but still a real slog to get through. The NA apologists will tell that this is gritty and clever and guess what, for once they are absolutely right, but it's also hollow, lifeless, devoid of any humanity, practically plotless and (worst of all) dull during its text heavy sequences. The sad fact is Warhead starts out brilliantly (I was gripped for the first 80 pages) but as soon as the action moves to Turkey and New York it crashes and dives into its grave and never recovers. The climax is so forgettable they may as well have not bothered and it insults all the more because at the beginning the book looked like it was heading somewhere really exciting.
Cartmel isn't interested in writing anything that is remotely Doctor Who related. He wants to get a science fiction novel published so he slaps the Doctor Who banner on the front and writes this instead. A book where he introduces concepts like his "universal machine" but never explores it. He never allows us to see the people it will affect. He never allows us to understand its implications. The people involved in its conception are revealed but never explored, and most galling of all, their punishment is nowhere near adequate enough. Nothing is thought through in this novel (except for the setting) and as such it is an extremely frustrating experience. <
The eternally funless world of the New Adventures continues here with both regulars displaying little personality, little reaction to the events going on and no sense of joy travelling together. Wow, the Doctor's tag as master manipulator has never seemed more appropriate. Basically this entire book consists of the Doctor putting all his pieces in place in order to take on the Butler Institute. Andrew Cartmel is infamous for hardly including the Doctor at all in his books but still pervading his pages with his presence and that is very much in effect here. Whilst this is one of the more intriguing portrayals of the manipulative seventh Doctor, it still confirms my belief that he is now an eternally dreary character who feels the weight of the entire universe on his shoulders. Frankly, he's no fun to be around at all. Why Ace continues to travel with him is beyond me.
Saying that, if you are going to make the Doctor a broody player of peoples' lives, you may as well get that across as well as possible. There are some striking scenes here that bring his responsibilities crashing home. Seeing him give a child a weapon and teaching him to fight back feels very right. He is also pretty unforgiving, refusing to take Maria with him because she knew about the BI's plan and did nothing to stop it. Equally compelling is the Doctor walking out on Bobby Prescott, leaving him to the hands of kids from gangs he has been killing. He is described as a sorcerer, one that makes reality accommodate your belief systems.
But what about Ace? She completes this deathly-dull duo and is another character who has forgotten all of the joy of travelling the universe and is nothing but a mindless zombie who allows the Doctor to manoeuvre her into the right places in his plans without any explanations as to what is going on. What is she, stupid? And she whinges about being manipulated later on and she lets him gets away with it here without comment! Whilst Ace is here, crossing the pond, stealing the weapon, outfoxing her opponents, she has absolutely no personality whatsoever. She hardly reacts to anything, being shot at, and making deals with terrorists, fights. She's a ruthless automaton with no charisma, no personality whatsoever. When is she leaving? Ace's arrogance is punished when Justine twists her view of the Doctor into something terrifying: "You thought you could insult me and walk away unscathed. Get out of here before I tear your world apart completely." I was laughing my head off and egging Justine on all the way!
There are some really horrible moments in this book, things I just don't want to read about. Hearing a child being described as being hammered into a blunt, bloody shape by a car is disgusting and Vincent's abuse at the hand of his father is equally distasteful. The text-heavy Turkish sequences begin the downswing in quality for the book, disrupting the flow of the book; so much unbroken prose is hard to process in great chunks.
It is a shock when you realise the entire book is plotless, just the Doctor pulling a bunch of people together to defeat his opponent. People will probably be laughing at me writing that, thinking gosh Joe that's the whole bloody point... well duh, what a totally pointless excuse for a novel. Call the eighth Doctor useless but he could pull a few characters together in fives minutes, not spend an age getting articles written, sending Ace off to foreign countries, blah blah blah. I think the seventh Doctor does it just because he likes to feel clever. At the end of the day, the time this book spends tying its laces could be spent exploring characters, concepts, advancing the plot... you know, all the everyday things you expect from a novel which are entirely absent here.
I will admit that Cartmel does manage to build his world with effortless ease but unfortunately it is a drab, hollow, banal world with nobody in it to give a toss about. He carves out a future for humanity which I desperately hope will always be fiction, a place where we have poisoned the planet to such an extent that the only sensible option is to abandon our bodies and surrender our minds to a machine that will maintain them.
The characters of Vincent and Justine are fairly good but they only show up in the last third and then we only get to see their pasts rather than exploring anything they might be like now in the present. Neither of them is especially likable (once again they are sullen, broody and lack much personality) but at least there is potential for future development.
Anything good about this book? The Doctor visiting Shreela on her deathbed to ask for help is chokingly poignant. The double bluff in chapter seven is excellent, Ace sleeping in a second hotel but leaving her life jacket in the hotel she is booked into to be shot to pieces when her assassin comes a-knocking. The weapon is revealed to be Vincent, a boy who can telepathically mould people's emotions and turn them into a weapon. Watching his history, being tricked by Calvin into being cryogenically stored, is gripping. But it's too little reward for far too much effort reading.
Let's face it, Cartmel can write extremely mature, readable prose but without anything worth reading even lovely prose is just words strung together without a point. Before you leap to Warhead's defence and suggest this is just part one of a three-part trilogy don't bother. As an individual novel this sinks, I didn't accept that excuse with Interference (Part 1) and I won't accept it here. Warhead thinks it is bloody clever and because it is playing about with our perceptions of the Doctor's character it doesn't have to bother with things like explanations, moments of levity, satisfying character payoff and a plot.
Hardly the worst I have read from the New Adventures and there is some nice writing in here in spots but it continues the misfires of the range to this point.