Robots of Death
|ISBN#||0 563 55575 0|
|Continuity||Between Last Man Running
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
|Synopsis:The Doctor and Leela find themselves in Kaldor City, where the deadly robots are once again being programmed to kill. Can the dead genius Taren Capel really be involved?|
Robots of Death, Take 2 by Michael Hickerson 22/12/99
The Robots of Death has always been one of the more popular Doctor Who stories, so the idea of a sequel must have been extremely appealing to the BBC. Add to it that bonus of having the sequel penned by Chris Boucher, who gave us the original, four-part story in the late 70's and the novel seems like an absolute can't miss.
And it should have been.
But it's not.
The premise is interesting enough--namely looking at the long-term effects the events in Robots of Death had on the characters involved as well as the overall impact it had on the society that Boucher presented on screen. And when the novel shows us these points, it does fairly well. We get an equal amount of book time with the three surviving members of the Sandminer and get to see how the years have been to them. For some, it's been kind, for others, not so good. Each of them is mistrustful of robots for the obvious reasons.
Enter the Doctor and Leela onto the scene. The two are quickly separated and then the fun begins.
The first three-quarters of Boucher's novel go fairly well as he sets up a number of different narratives and plotlines that are, for the most part, entertaining enough to read. He certainly seems to have a better handle on the situation on Kallidor City than he did on the planet from Last Man Running. Part of it may be not having to create a whole new world for the Doctor and Leela to visit, but instead being able to revisit an established one. However, the book collapses under its own weight in the final fourth as at least five seperate plotlines come together in a muddled mess. You almost get the feeling Boucher was told to keep the story to a certain number of pages and struggled to bring all the plots together in the required space.
In the end, it's hard to figure out who is up to what and just who the villian of the book is. Several are presented as red herrings, but all of them, while having early potential, fall flat in the final stages.
It's a frustrating end to what could have been one of the better previous Doctor novels this year.
However, this novel is a bit more satisfying than Boucher's last effort, Last Man Running. There, the Doctor and Leela seemed oddly out of character with Boucher seeming to force some tension between the savage Leela and the intellectual Doctor. It works a bit better here. Both characters are more relaxed and there's a bit more trust and respect built up between the two. The conflict of instinct over reason is still there, but it's not as heavy-handed in Corpse Marker.
So, overall, it's hard to recommend Corpse Marker. It's got some good points, yes. But it's also got some glaring errors. If you're a Tom Baker fan, it's worth the read. But if you're looking for a truly great Doctor Who novel, you'd best skip this one.
A Review by Finn Clark 12/1/00
Chris Boucher is the talented writer of many Doctor Who and Blake's Seven scripts, which made it all the more disappointing when his first novel, Last Man Running, was a failure. Undeterred, the BBC gave him a second chance and the result is Corpse Marker.
Is it any good? Well, yes. Chris Boucher is coming on in leaps and bounds as a novelist, although his roots as a scriptwriter are still showing. As with Last Man Running, I think Corpse Marker might have worked better on the screen. It's smoothly written and lasts the distance without any difficulty, but I think there are depths in the story and concept that don't fully come across. On the surface it's a simple book of killers and action. Underneath I think it's almost reminiscent of Phil K. Dick.
To begin at the beginning, it stars the fourth Doctor and Leela in a sequel to The Robots of Death. Unsurprisingly there are killer robots on the loose, but it's quite a lot more complicated than what we got on TV. That was a straightforward monster story. Corpse Marker visits more disturbing territory, blurring the distinction between man and robot in twisted, imaginative and lethal ways.
Leela gets to say the phrase "creepy metal men", which resonates so well that it could almost have been the book's title.
Here are psychological kinks ranging from bizarre to murderous. The people are crazy, but that's unsurprising given the horror of their world. Chris Boucher portrays an unhealthily robot-dependent society, rotten from top to bottom. Its leaders live in decadent comfort, blithely careless of the fact that a whopping chunk of Kaldor City is infested by gangs of cannibal killers. Everyone in power is a corrupt schemer who would cheerfully order the execution of inconvenient minions. There isn't a nice person on the planet. In fact everyone's such a complete bastard that it actually becomes funny, for instance in the Doctor's increasingly exasperated efforts to make people take him at face value.
I was reminded of the nightmare world of Zeta Major, another sequel to a Hinchcliffe story. The Kaldorians aren't anywhere near that bad, but both books manage the difficult trick of portraying a world so bloodily horrible that it's perversely fascinating. Normally a reader's reaction to a bunch of bastards is simply not to care what happens to them.
Of course we still have the lead characters. The Doctor is in good form, albeit startlingly fallible, while Leela is as murderously efficient as ever. There's also someone from a Blake's Seven episode in there, though I can't say how well he's portrayed as I haven't seen the episode in question. Judging just on this book, he's kinda fun.
Corpse Marker is loads better than Last Man Running, though it's mostly action-based. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not what novels do best and I think some aspects of the story are ill-served. There's quite a lot going on underneath Corpse Marker that only surfaces occasionally. If you start thinking about it, the blurring of the dividing line between men and machines gets almost unsettling.
The ending is a horrible anti-climax, but otherwise there's nothing much wrong with Corpse Marker. A giant leap forward for Chris Boucher and a perfectly readable book.
Corpse flogging by Robert Smith? 26/2/00
Coincidentally, I watched The Robots of Death shortly before reading Corpse Marker. I'm really glad I did, because I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed CM nearly as much as I did otherwise. It's an odd little book, giving us something that relies quite heavily on the original for its sequelitis, yet is very different indeed from the source material.
Fortunately, Chris Boucher has come a long way from Last Man Running. That book had some pretty terrible prose, an almost unrecognisable Doctor and a clumsy political plot underpinning it that was only introduced right at the end. Corpse Marker takes the strengths of LMR, such as its characterisation of Leela and the political intrigue and improves in the areas where the former was lacking.
It doesn't get them quite right, of course, but at least it's a lot more readable. The prose is still clumsy, but fortunately not outright bad. Some tighter editing could have probably solved this, but I suspect that once Boucher figures out how to deal with some of the problems, we'll have a very solid novel writer on our hands.
The Doctor doesn't quite feel right, but fortunately he's about on par with the fourth Doctor of other MA and PDA novels not written by Gareth Roberts (ie not particularly good and struggling painfully to sound like Tom Baker, but readable enough), which is a definite improvement over Last Man Running. He gets a lot to do, which helps.
Leela is as good as she was before, although she has less to do. Vast sections of the book pass without Leela scenes, which is a pity because she flows effortlessly. I'm honestly puzzled as to why Virgin never published a Leela MA, since the character translates very well to novel form. Admittedly, two of the novels featuring her have now been written by her creator, but she was similarly excellent in Eye of Heaven and Lungbarrow. More, please.
Boucher's tendency to summarize in the authorial voice works to his advantage here, bringing us up to speed quickly and giving us the real sense of how this is a whole society, rather than just six characters. He still has a tendency (as in LMR) to introduce new characters right at the end (such as the technicians), complete with goofy SciFi names, but this book's heart is in the right place.
The returning characters fare quite well, although that might have something to do with my viewing of The Robots of Death. The opening sections with Toos captaining a storm miner are great. She becomes a little too bitchy for my tastes, but it's certainly understandable. Poul is quite different, so much so that he might have been a completely new character and I honestly couldn't reconcile his speech with David Collings' wonderful performance... yet this doesn't really matter, because Poul has lost so much of his memory and self that this actually adds to the story.
Uvanov does the best out of the returning characters, scheming his way to the top of the society, without losing his non-founding-family charm. He's a great character and holds a lot of it together, especially as he doesn't get to interact with any of the regulars for any significant length of time. The book's political intrigue is probably its highlight.
Carnell is a different matter. The character pops up from one of Boucher's Blake's 7 episodes (and was about the only redeeming feature of that episode). He's great, but he gets almost nothing to do! We see very little of Carnell in action, just being told that he has everything set in motion from the start. The revelations about all the things Carnell has set up (eg Tani and Padil's significance) go nowhere, making it look as though the book was stuck with a character cleverer than the author. It's a real shame indeed, as Boucher's tell-don't-show style (which works in some places) really hampers Carnell.
The only real gripe I have about this book, besides some of the writing, is that we don't get much sense of the robots themselves. We get a few of the humanised robots, but mostly as assassins. SASV1 is an interesting idea, but, like Carnell, he doesn't get much to do other than have already set things in motion. But we get almost none of the Vocs, Supervoc or Dums (other than a few stopDums, which aren't terribly interesting) that gave The Robots of Death such class. Robots running amok is supposed to indicate the end of this robot-dependent society, but we simply don't see that the society is that dependent. There should have been robots everywhere, but especially in the investigation.
Speaking of which, I'm glad D84 wasn't resurrected (as looked to be the case early on), but I'm still not happy with the explanation for his nature that we got here. It's a personal gripe of mine that authors writing sequels tend to try and explain things about the original story that don't need explaining -- usually because these explanations invariably ruin the magic of the original. Thanks, but no. The story would have worked just as well without tying it in to D84 and his 'unique' nature.
In summary, Corpse Marker isn't too bad for a sequel. It struggles a little, but makes decent use of the returning characters. It helps enormously if you've just watched The Robots of Death, but it does okay. All the returning characters are left conspicuously alive by the story's end, so I suspect a third installment in the Robots of Death saga will probably be forthcoming sometime. If Boucher can make a similar leap of quality from this to the next as he did from LMR to this, then I can't honestly say the thought bothers me.
Last Robot Running by Jason A. Miller 11/3/00
Arriving on our shelves less than 25 years after its parent story first aired on television, Corpse Marker may be one of the fastest sequels ever made to a Doctor Who story. Just one month before this book's release, we were "treated" to the followup of a story 10 years older. The Robots of Death is not as good a story as The Celestial Toymaker, but the sequel to the former winds up as the champion in this little duel, if nothing else.
I have to state in advance that I'm rather indifferent to The Robots of Death. I watched the first two parts to the story while reading Corpse Marker, perhaps hoping for a glimpse of how Chris Boucher had matured as an author over 25 years, or perhaps because I really didn't have anything better to do in early March. I was impressed most by the direction of the parent story -- there are lush sets and intricate robot (and human) choreography up there on the TV screen. But factor in indifferent acting and typical Louise Jamison-era acting out of Tom Baker and I don't wind up with any sense of awe. I don't even understand how the phrase "creepy mechanical men" mutated into "creepy metal men" between progenitor and sequel.
It then occurred to me that Chris Boucher never even took the time to name any of the alien locales he created for Doctor Who. We never learn what planet we're on in The Face of Evil, The Robots of Death or Last Man Running; meanwhile, the Fendahl come from the "fifth planet". Thank you, Chris. If, as a reader, you're looking for great detail, check out the Robert Holmes display on the other floor. There's a complex society at work here, and a couple of hints that the planet is named Kaldor (which in United States terms makes it a chain of department stores). But we see no more of what made that society tick than we did in 1977, never minding the promises made by the book's back cover blurb. What few "civilian" characters there are die before the halfway point (one feature in common with Robots).
Boucher, at least, is a competent writer, so while the book is slow and annoyingly vague, it is never a bad book; merely sluggish and disappointing. As an epic novel, with more detail and more attention to certain plot threads, we could have been looking at a latter-day Who classic. Certainly it is welcome to see the return of Commander Uvanov and Poul from the original story; they were the best two actors in the original cast and they're really well-done here. Uvanov especially is the right combination of paranoid and perceptive, and carries a political savvy rarely seen outside of certain Justin Richards novels. Poul, whose vanishing act at the end of Robots was never explained to my satisfaction, acts consistently and sympathetically here, even though the addition of a first name (Ander, as if we couldn't tell which famous SF author he was named after in the first place, ha ha) gives only the appearance of depth. No "Poul" for swimming, this one. Toos (the always welcome Pamela Salem) has also aged logically. I mention these returning three because it may be the last time in any Doctor Who novel that a returning character is recognizable all these years later.
Where the book fails is in its lack of society. Sewerpits and cab driver prostitutes? Too drab. Some sort of corruption in the upper echelons of government? Someone named "Carnell" who might be behind it all, had he seen more than 10 pages of print? His final confrontation with the Doctor carries no weight, since unless you've seen the relevant Blakes 7 episodes (and I haven't) there's no clue as to who he is, who hired him, and what he's trying to do. The supporting cast is stretched so thin (as in Last Man Running) that everyone seems to be carrying multiple plot functions. Perhaps a Dramatis Personae (one for the front of the book, one for the back) would have helped. And there aren't even that many robots -- at least in the original story the named robots, in "2001" fashion, were more interesting than the humans.
An awful lot of words to describe what is, in the end, an average and desert-dry book. Maybe an extra hundred pages would have helped (and there are few DW books these days about which you can say that). Or perhaps a swim in the "Poul" will help wash all the desert sand out of my hair and I can move on to more engaging stories.
It's not just fans that know how to write Doctor Who for today's audience by Tim Roll-Pickering 29/3/00
I approached Corpse Marker with very mixed anticipations. On the one hand I've never been a particular fan of the Tom Baker stories but on the other hand The Robots of Death is the main exception to the rule. When I heard that a sequel had been written by Chris Boucher I was cautious at first but then decided to pick it up. And once I started reading I only stopped for sleep.
Set several years after the events on the Sandminder, Corpse Marker gives us a chance to see Kaldor City at both its highest and lowest. Several old characters return, including Kiy Uvanov, Ander Poul and Lish Toos from the television adventure as well as Carnell from 'Weapon,' an episode of Blakes 7 written by Boucher. But this is no simple rewrite of an existing story. Instead Chris Boucher delivers an original plot that fully justifies the story's existence. Taking a cue from Who Killed Kennedy this book investigates just how dramatic events are kept hidden from the public, with every possible method having been undertaken to ensure that Uvanov, Poul and Toos do not cause panic by spreading the knowledge that robots can kill, irregardless of how badly affected they are, as shown by Poul's breakdowns. However matters are changed dramatically by a plot to re-establish the power of the traditional families through the use of a new type of robots...
This is very much a character novel, focusing on how the individuals react to the events around them. Several of the characters are especially well handled, with the Doctor and Leela written so well that you can believe they have stepped straight out of the latter stages of Season 14. Uvanov, Toos and Poul are all well characterised and really make you feel for them whilst Carnell is appropriately kept behind the scenes for most of the time. However the new characters make less of an impact, with only a few exceptions like Con Bartel whose death is especially well handled. Others, such as Padril, Sarl or Cailio Techlan do come across as being rather weak and forgettable, whilst Pitter and Landerchild's appearances are far too small to be comprehended. But it is a tribute to Boucher's skill that such defects are ignored as the plot takes off.
The plot itself is one of mystery but it is resolved in the last chapters of the book without trying to cram everything in and thus alienating the reader. The resolution is not a standard return to the status quo but instead sees a distinctive change in the running of the city and the status of several of the characters, actually making the story worthwhile.
Chris Boucher is, of course, one of only a small handful of writers from the television series to have produced Doctor Who novels (the others include Terrance Dicks, Marc Platt, Ben Aaronovitch, Barry Letts and Andrew Cartmel) but Corpse Marker in no way reads as being old fashioned, instead showing that it's not just fans that know how to write Doctor Who for today's audience. This novel is highly recommended. 8/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 7/8/00
Throughout both the Missing Adventures and the BBC Past Doctor Adventures,there have been a number of sequels of varying quality. Corpse Marker is not one of the better efforts.
PLOT: Interesting enough in itself. The effects of The Robots Of Death are obviously taking their toll on Kaldor City. This aspect works well; what doesn`t is the rest of the plot.
THE DOCTOR: Tom Baker by numbers really; recognisable but not necessarily accurate.
LEELA:Great, when she actually appears as she isn`t really involved enough to make a great impact.
OTHERS: Toos; well she's bitchy. Poul; virtually unrecognisable. His amnesia doesn't help matters either. Uvanov; scheming to reclaim his place. The highlight of the novel. Sarl and Padril are faceless and forgettable.
VILLAIN: Carnell doesn't appear much and because of this his behind the scenes manipulations greatly lessen his impact.
OVERALL: Too close to The Robots Of Death to be a sequel, with not a great deal to commend it. Corpse Marker's only redeeming feature is the plot if you can be prepared to stick at it. 4/10.
A Review by Steve White 16/2/16
Corpse Marker is a 4th Doctor Past Doctor Adventure by Chris Boucher and a follow up to his Last Man Running. I wasn't overly impressed with Last Man Running; I found it to be a mediocre novel that tried far too hard and was hoping for better with Corpse Marker.
Corpse Marker is a follow up to the popular TV story The Robots of Death. We catch up with three survivors, all of whom are shunning robots in the robot-obsessed society. Unsurprisingly, the robots start acting up again, starting with hunting down the three survivors. The Doctor and Leela arrive and soon get caught up in events.
What follows is a mostly brilliant story that keeps you entertained and intrigued right until the end. However, as the novel draws to a close, things do start falling apart. First, the ending is abrupt to the point you have to check you haven't skipped a page or two. Secondly, you begin to think of things throughout the book that were not explained fully; for example, the red discs left on the corpses. Third and finally, you wonder why Boucher went to great lengths to make the characters in depth, when a lot of them were in no way integral to the plot.
Characterwise, the Doctor is well written, which is a surprise given his blandness in Last Man Running. I was slighty annoyed with his lack of being able to get control of both robots and fliers, but it was nothing major. I still don't have much time for Leela, but she's less irritating here, possibly as she doesn't have a lot to do. No complaints though.
As mentioned the supporting cast consist mainly of the three returnees, Toos, Poul and Uvanov, who are all built up really well. What is disappointing is that, aside from Uvanov, the build-up means practically nothing as the characters exist solely for one plot function. Carnell is an interesting character, who I'd be happy to see again. But, aside from that, all the others are forgettable; even the killer robots are a bit meh, as they need an evil genius behind them.
As sequels go, Corpse Marker is done very well. There is much to like about the novel, and the minor niggles I have didn't hamper my enjoyment. The ending could have been improved, but it's still well worth a read.