BBC Books
The Crooked World

Author The Crooked World Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53856 2
Published 2002

Synopsis: Somebody is about to change everything - and it's possible that no one on the Crooked World will ever be happy again. The Doctor's TARDIS is about to arrive. And when it does... That's all folks!


A Review by Rob Matthews 18/6/02

Inexpert as I am with the BBC books, it seems to me that while managing to beef up characterisation they've nevertheless moved into an odd, insecure phase. It's 'post-Doctor Who' in a way. The TV series and the books have always wore their influences on their sleeve, but these days it appears we're into the realm of blatant pastiche, of 'Doctor Who does 007' (Trading Futures), 'Doctor Who does the Brothers Grimm' (Grimm Reality), 'Doctor Who does Looney Tunes/the Scooby Doo movie' (the book in question), and of course 'Doctor Who does Debbie does Dallas' written by Magrs and Miles (it can only be a matter of time...). Then there was the 'clone army' (can I say that yet?) in Hope. It's almost as if there's a worry that Doctor Who can't sell books alone, that it has to either grab onto the coat-tails of whatever fad is flitting by or ground itself in a very familiar hook or gimmick.

I might be being unfair to the authors of the books I've mentioned, since I've only read one from those I've cited and I'm going more by reviews and marketing (you only need to look at the cover of Trading Futures to see which property it's aping). After spending the last year or so reading all the NAs I could get my hands on, I must admit I'm on a kind of a break from Doctor Who at the moment. I'm still constantly in the middle of some Doctor Who novel or other, but I've been more into my other various reading materials and I'm being - well, not so much choosey as random about what DW stuff I read. The Crooked World looked fun, and I've enjoyed Steve Lyons' other work. Yes, even Head Games. Well, most of it.

I guess the trick to the book is to follow the lead of the cover and picture it as a cartoon. It would have made a great one-off TV episode in that alternate universe where the telemovie spawned a series. But can a visual joke sustain a novel? Hmm. My reaction after finishing it was pretty much the same as my reaction throughout - I was entertained, but couldn't escape a lingering feeling that it was indulgent toss. In Head Games, Lyons made inroads into this sort of metatextual masturbation, and unfortunately those were the parts of that book I liked the least. That wasn't so much the case with The Crooked World, but I couldn't escape the feeling that the author was almost tooaccurate in his recreation of the world of golden age kids cartoons - the sense that he was doing nothing more creative than making a transcript of a Road Runner episode, and later making so little effort to put any kind of spin on the Scooby Doo crew that I can only assume copyrights have lapsed - 'Thelma' even has the same name as her cartoon counterpart! Why not a bunch of California surfers solving mysteries with the help of their trusty feline Kool Kat? or something? Then it would be parody rather than thudding great rip-off.

For what's it's worth, Lyons obviously knows his toons and recreates their atmosphere well - and much like with a real Tom and Jerry/ Roadrunner/Wacky Races, I enjoyed it but could only take it in ten-minute bursts. The idea that the Doctor and his companions would be horribly vulnerable in a world with a blithe attitude to violence (because for the inhabitants violence has no consequence) is raised at the beginning, and is quite scary to envision, but the idea dissolves pretty quickly along with rest of the Crooked World's rules.

And this is because the Doctor and his friends come along and liberate the Crooked World from its generic conventions, bringing free will (yabba-dabba-doo!) and death (zoiks!) to the 2D populace to make them real people. Which is... nice? I dunno. Perhaps this is just too abstract and silly for me. Who on Earth wants to see Penelope Pitstop grappling with existential angst?

The book's perfectly readable and pretty enjoyable, though, especially if you cast all the voices in your head (Streaky Bacon - Dan Castanawhatsisname, Boss Dogg - Burl Ives, Repugna - Bea Arthur). But I guess that just goes to emphasise how much better it would have been as a TV episode (might have been difficult to get Burl Ives involved, however). Lyons writes a couple of quite affecting 'lost innocence' scenes too, and they reminded me of a poignant WB short I once saw about a dog who thought he'd killed a cat.

Plus there's a Magrs-esque refusal to explain how this world could have evolved laws of physics based on Saturday morning cartoons. We live in an manifold multiverse, right?! You phallocentric peeg! You might find that liberating, you might find it a cop-out. Again it raises the question of how author-indulgent we want these books to get. Among numerous niggling doubts, I can't help but wonder if this is a short story stretched way beyond its means.

A Review by Finn Clark 10/7/02

What a useless cover! I'm not talking about the concept (which is great), but the execution (which even I could improve on). Why didn't someone call Roger Langridge? The man's a genius, whereas this is the kind of thing my little brother might draw. It's dreadful! Dreadful!

As for the book itself...

It's not commonly realised how neatly Steve Lyons's novels fall into distinct categories. His Hartnell PDAs are emotional historical dramas. His Troughton PDAs are slightly underwhelming sci-fi, set in the 22nd/23rd centuries and starring his own monsters, the Selachians. His Colin Baker MAs are aggressively grim slogs, set in 2191 and starring Grant Markham. And his NAs/8DAs are Reality With A Twist.

Conundrum dumped the Virgin Doctor in the Land of Fiction and exploited its fictional rules to hilarious effect. Head Games was a sequel to the above. The Space Age had a wonderful concept - the year 2000, as imagined in the sixties. Finally, at last we come to The Crooked World, which is Doctor Who meets cartoon animals. Once upon a time, I'd have expected this to be killingly funny and a joy from beginning to end. Sadly Steve Lyons appears to have been doing his best to erase all comedy from his novels since about 1995 or so, which is a shame since I reckon he's one of our finest humorists. (Read The Completely Useless Encyclopedia if you don't believe me.) And even if that hadn't been the case, The Space Age was so comprehensively dire that I was always going to regard The Crooked World with deep suspicion.

Thank goodness, it's much better than The Space Age. I rather enjoyed it - but don't expect lots of light-hearted Looney Tunes frivolity. In fact, it's surprisingly po-faced.

I wanted to love this book, but instead it took me a while to settle into it. I wanted the joy of a cartoon, something that was fun and funny. However Steve Lyons treats his cartoon world with deadly seriousness, regarding it as just another alternate world with its own physical laws. The talking animals don't enjoy their adventures, but contemplate the meaning of their existence. Admittedly this is a plot point, but it still doesn't feel much like Porky Pig. Eventually the Scooby Doo gang - sorry, the Skeleton Crew - swing into action as we remember 'em and the author (gasp!) betrays some fondness for his source material, but for the most part it's a pretty heavy story being told here. There's guilt, murder, pain, injury and personal responsibility. You'll find some accurate observations regarding cartoons and their narrative rules, but it's deconstruction rather than celebration.

Admittedly a few laughs creep in. Angel Falls is moderately amusing in her interactions with Anji, then Fitz. There's a joke on page 66. And page 174 will make every reader cheer, though I don't know if that's what Steve Lyons intended. But mostly it's a thoughtful, sometimes moving story that just happens to be about cartoon characters.

I had a problem with the fact that Anji never recognised these thinly disguised versions of Scooby Doo or the Wacky Races. (Hell, Fitz is only a few years away from being able to identify them too! And I'm not just talking about old-timers like Tom and Jerry (first cartoon: "Puss Gets The Boot", 1940). "Scooby Doo" and "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop" both premiered on 13th September 1969, the latter being a spin-off from "Wacky Races" in 1968. Steve Lyons's Angel Falls is derived from both Penelope incarnations despite notable differences between 'em; the "Wacky Races" version was a modern gal who drove a Compact Pussycat, while the Perils version was a homage to the silent film series "The Perils of Pauline" and had a 1930s look.) But even as it stands they're pretty blatant steals, so having Anji actually say "you're Penelope Pitstop!" might have brought Time-Warner's lawyers down on BBC Books.

There's nothing actually wrong with this book (except the bit on page 250, which doesn't get enough build-up and isn't nearly as good as a similar moment in George Gipe's Gremlins novelisation). It's not the book I had hoped for, but that doesn't make it bad. On the contrary, it's a serious story that (eventually) comes to terms with its lightweight trappings. The tale I'd expected would have probably been better suited to a comic strip, not a novel. Recommended, but make sure you don't take in false expectations.

Move over Adventuress! by Joe Ford 8/8/02

I utterly adored The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and I've made no secret that it was my favourite EDA by some way. So wrapped up in it was I that I went to make a cup of tea one night whilst absorbed in its throws and I ended up in the hallway, not actually reaching the kettle, unable to drag myself away from the book until I had finished. High praise indeed, but in almost every way The Crooked World knocks spots of Adventuress. Foremost is the fact that I started it in the bath this morning and I never left the bathroom for FOUR hours until I had soaked in it's entire sumptous story.

In short, I loved this book and everything about it.

Steve Lyons has now officially been raised to my third favourite Doctor Who author (after Justin Richards and Lance Parkin, obviously). His greatest skill with this book was to create a world that I became utterly immersed in and wouldn't leave until I read how everything turned out. His prose, as ever, isn't poetry or heavy on description but he conjours up a truly weird planet more evocatively than I have ever seen before.

His original characters are just wonderful and easily the best thing about the book. I say original but it is not hard to spot which of Steve's creations are based on which cartoons. What he does which is astoundingly clever is taking them away from their stereotypes and showing us just how well they cope without behaviour patterns. It's not always pretty but it's always thought provoking and makes them the most exquisitely drawn characters in ages. My favourite was Streaky Bacon, the pig farmer who copes with all the revelations thrown at him in a very natural way even to the point of wanting to commit suicide. Angel Falls was a whole lot of fun and The Skeleton Crew never ceased to crack me up! There isn't a single character who at any point annoyed me or made me think they could have been portrayed better. Special mention must be made of Jasper, the most sympathetic character ever whose tear jerking shock moment left me reeling and his last scene is a real joy.

Even more impressive is the ever engaging team of The 8th Doctor, Fitz and Anji. Will they ever NOT work? They all had moments that had me cheering... Anji and her unimpressed reactions to everything, The Doctor's gentle nudging of everybody to revel in their new found free will, Fitz continuing to bonk his way through the space time continum. Anji was great because she just couldn't get her head around the Crooked World with her logically atuned mind, her attempts to try and rationalise all the absurd happenings were very in character! These three weren't as important as the rapidly unfolding lives of the population of The Crooked World but they are, as ever, a vital influence. And the last small scene with Fitz is wonderful. Please let the speculation of this team breaking up be just that, speculation, as I think they make a formidably entertaining trio.

What was especially clever about this novel was the way it poked fun at the cartoons it was mimicking without shattering their integrity. Cartoons are a vital part of our childhood and Steve Lyons captures perfectly why we love them so much whilst revealing just how damn illogical and stupid they can be too (but hey, that's why they are fun right?). It was through the eyes of our 'normal' characters that they seemed out of the ordinary which was fascinating as that is precisely the audience they are aimed at. And equally fascinating is when these 'extraodinary' characters start doing normal things. Very clever stuff.

There are two deaths in this book (no spoilers here as you'll have to read to find out who!) and like a fellow reviewer mentioned they were far more shocking than any other deaths in the book range. Stunning in their simplicity and heartbreaking in their effect.

The real coup of this book is the wrapping it comes in. The cover is great with a really dishy looking McGann cartoon but it gives the reader the idea of a nutcase comedy lying inside. The fact that it is an intelligent, thought provoking take on life, death, perception and consequnces makes it all the more richer. it certainly wasn't what I was expecting.

Another classic in the increasingly excellent Eight Doctor range. Do people still think the Virgin range was better?

Supplement 23/1/03:

Having re-read this novel I think I can put my finger on why it has been so successful. Quite simply the book is full of absurdities (and much funnier than Finn Clark seems to suggest). Cartoon characters do silly things, it's part of what makes them so much fun and to have Fitz and Anji nearby with their straight, pre-programmed lines it is a shocking and hysterical contrast. A lot of the fun comes from the two companions reactions to the impossible physics of The Crooked World.

Anji being tricked by the whatchamacalit and slipping on the banana skin is brilliant and her reaction to the creature that falls down the cliff and gets up, his face popping back into shape are hilarious. Fitz's attempts to teach Angel Falls the delights of sex (with Anji's wicked thoughts comparing her to a Barbie doll with the same 'parts') never cease to have me in tears of laughter.

It is soon obvious our intrepid explorers have had a profound effect on the people of The Crooked World and this is the book's other greatest strength. The story is really concerned with the heartbreaking results that come with the loss of innocence. These characters are introduced to free will, sex, death, mobs... the sudden influence the TARDIS team has is phenonmenal (and Boss Doggs hysterical reactions to all this "free thinking!" (basically go and have a lie down and you'll all feel better!). Watching the characters, expertly set up to fail because of their sheer innocence, unable to cope with these scary concepts is touching. I'm not sure what works best, Angel Falls and her road towards independence, Boss Dogg's increasing use of swear words, Streaky's attmepted suicide or The Masked Weasel pathetic attempts at baddie-ness!

The cartoon characters are easily recognisable but I have to disagree strong with Rob Matthews' suggestion that this feels like a short story stretched beyond its means. It is essential to see the characters in their regular, cartoonish routines to make their later revelations so terrifying. Each character has a story to tell and whilst some are more essential than others (Jasper is easily the best) they all contribute another message to the story. The length of the book is perfect and it stops on a nice mysterious note so we can only speculate how things progressed further on The Crooked World.

What makes it so wonderful though is how much thought Steve Lyons has put into his prose. It is simple but extremely effective, he describes things so vividly and captures his characters emotions so well you are in love with most of them from the word go.

The Crooked World is also a refreshing break from the arc heavy books that surround it (and especially follow it). Indeed this is the only book for ages that doesn't contain Sabbath and isn't about the concept of time travel, fascinating though it is, it is lovely to have a break from the theme.

Expertly placed, brilliantly written and with a cover to die for (c'mon which other spin off series would be so brave?) this is Doctor Who in print at its all time best. It's books like this that make me glad there's no series at the moment as the books are doing a fine (and better) job at keeping the show's legacy alive.

The Six Degrees of Streaky Bacon by Andrew McCaffrey 19/8/02

I can't believe that I'm going to be so positive about a book with a childishly cartoon cover and one that is set not a million miles away from Porky Pig's dwelling, but here goes -- The Crooked World is the best EDA of the year so far. I'm not entirely sure how Steve Lyons managed to pull off such a feat, but this is certainly an impressive piece of writing. The jokes come, not at the expense of the material, but with a love of the source, and the intelligent look at what is being parodied is done in a subtle touching way that I hadn't guessed was possible.

For many of us, the cartoons recreated and joked about in this book are pieces of fiction that we've been watching for as long as we can remember (even longer than Doctor Who in some cases!) and the familiarity with this material gives Lyons quite an advantage here. With only a few carefully constructed sentences, he can tap into literally hours worth of memories of Acme Co. anvils, mice cleverly outwitting cats and other staples of the Loony Toons and Merry Melodies universes. All the work has been done in the past, and Lyons can easily invoke the material that has already been created.

But what makes The Crooked World so special is not merely that he's putting the Doctor Who characters into a cartoon universe (as Grimm Reality merely placed the regulars in the world of fairy tales), it's that he is able to bring the cartoon world closer to the real one, subverting the conventions of that genre. He holds it up to the light, not just to point out that the physics in Bug Bunny sketches is faulty, but to demonstrate the real fundamental differences. The cartoon people (made up of assorted pigs, dogs, cats, and others) are embarking upon a very clearly defined journey from two-dimensional silliness to something greater. Like observing children as they turn into adults, we can anticipate many of the trials and tribulations they will encounter, but we keep watching to see how they'll deal with these real world concepts. A lot of the success of this book comes down to the subtle cleverness of Lyons' writing skills. Indeed, there are death scenes that are as affecting as any ever seen in Doctor Who, and the characters are among the most interesting ever seen in the series. Maybe it's more emotionally powerful because we've known characters like this all of our lives, but whatever the reason, it is very involving.

I have no idea what someone would make of this if they weren't at least a little familiar with the cartoons being lovingly mocked here. Fortunately, Lyons manages to subvert a lot of the conventions of this genre, so I'd imagine that even someone who's had a cave for an address for the past fifty years would find something enjoyable here. Certainly I found much here that was unbelievably entertaining and unexpectedly touching. Rarely has death and pain been touched on so expertly in the Doctor Who books and the fact that the people dying and suffering are evolving cartoon characters just goes to demonstrate how powerful the writing is. Definitely an EDA not to be missed. (And the Scooby Doo jokes are hilarious.)

A Review by Robert Thomas 6/11/02

I'm going to start this review as I mean to go on, this is the most enjoyable book I've read in years. Hopefully to do this book justice this will be the most enthusiastic review I've ever done because after the recent dirge The Crooked World stands well above what has preceded it although hopefully not as much as what will follow. No doubt after seeing the cover a few people may have sarcastically thought 'oh great a wacky book'. You'd be right but in saying that it's still not what you think. Sure it's full of humor and cartoonish elements but its also got emotional depth on which glancing at my shelf I see rarely appears in the range and hasn't since the arse end of last year.

Looking objectively I suppose this book is about the affect The Doctor has on people when he turns up out of the blue. Making impacts that in some cases alter peoples lives forever. Critics may assume that this is similar to Grimm Reality (the one with the fairy tales), honestly I'd have to say it isn't but this doesn't stop the amusing harking back to it - you mean like on the fairy tale planet?

This book deserves to be the standout book of the year, if books are supposed to do what they say on the tin this should have been called Everything Bar the Kitchen Sink. There's so much fun to be had here including spot the cartoon, I won't give much away as it'll spoil the fun. Out of the new characters from the crooked world my personal favorites were Streaky Bacon and Jasper. I tell you this much Jasper will definitely nuzzle his way into your hearts especially with his plight. On top of all this are the gags which are the best I've heard in Who for ages, as are the situations such as on arrival being confronted with an armed and dangerous pig.

Overall this is the must buy book of the year, it may think it's Crooked but it's pretty perfect.

Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 28/11/02

So what happens when the author of The Space Age, the biggest let down after the build up since The Phantom Menace, decides to introduce Doctor Who to the world of cartoons? It all goes wrong, of course. The biggest mistake, I think, is the tone of the novel. Yes, this is a world where people hurt each other, cats suffer injustices at the hands of mice, people fall off cliffs, etc., but most of all cartoons are supposed to bring joy. There is no joy here.

The prologue alone is enough to make you believe you'd made an error in choosing to read this. We get, in short order: despair, frustration, awkward recognition and a sense of dread. That Steve Lyons wanted the audience to feel this is doubtful, but there it is.

I am going to give sort of a big spoiler here, directly relating to the plot of the novel, but it's patently obvious after a few chapters, and even the Doctor points out the plot concept. Have you ever seen the movie Pleasantville? After reading The Crooked World, you may have well of. The basic concept is exactly the same, and, in fact, put down this book now and go watch the movie instead, it is far superior.

One might also recall, whilst reading this, the recent novel Grimm Reality. And if you don't, don't worry, the main leads do at least once per character. However, there is something different here in that, for once, Steve Lyons chooses not to delve too deeply into the origins of this world. Possibly trying to fit even this into the scientific fantasy of Doctor Who proved too much. We do get a botched attempt at explaining some of it, but it's too nebulous to give credit either way for.

As for the main leads... oh dear gods, Steve Lyons manages to get them around the wrong way! Fitz is the first to realise the cartoon nature of the world and proceeds to deal with it as if he knows of the past 30 years of animation history, not to mention encompassing movies that were screened long after 1963. Whereas Anji can't even recognise a rip-off of Scooby Doo! (Although this novel might be able to explain The Curse of Fatal Death in which we found out Scooby Doo was a real being.) There's insulting the readers, and then there's the assault and battery of The Crooked World.

Then there's the Doctor. Not even Steve Lyons can go wrong there. No, here the Doctor keeps out of the way, doesn't give over-the-top explanations and has nothing to do with resolving the situation. Oh... hang on...

On the new characters side, we have Streaky Bacon, not quite the only decent character in the entire book. His growth is hard, but we are entirely on his side, and it's his journey that really makes The Crooked World lift from the pits of blackness. Another decent character is Jasper, a character that you really feel for. Angel Falls is basically irritating, sugar, and you get to the point you want to smack her (although Fitz tries a few other things, not entirely successfully). Boss Dogg should have been a stronger role, but refuses to get involved for far too long. Oh, and can I just say that the dynamite baby was a running joke that was far too laboured and went on far too long?

The Crooked World. Take it or leave it, you just can't wash the stain from your soul. A big promise, and a horrendous execution. Steve Lyons, take a bow.

A Review by John Seavey 7/4/03

As I began reading The Crooked World, it only took me a few pages before I immediately decided that the whole thing was a great idea with the wrong author. The idea of the Doctor materializing in an animated cartoon world with cartoon physics was fun, yes, but Steve Lyons has a far too solid, sensible approach to really make such a thing work. This would have been better suited, I thought, to a wild, wacky author like Jac Rayner or Dave Stone, and not to Steve Lyons.

Then I got into the book, and I realized I was wrong. As the story continued, I started to realize that this wasn't a "wild, wacky" book. This was full of interesting questions about morality and free will, as the inhabitants of the Crooked World took a look around them and wondered just what they'd been doing all these years. I began to grow attached to the characters, and started wondering how it would all turn out. I found myself very impressed with this novel, and I understand exactly why it's gotten such praise.

The two big decisions that Lyons made that I applaud: One, he didn't decide to make the Crooked World a "virtual thingie, a computer thingie, or an alternate thingie" (to paraphrase Daniel O'Mahoney.) We don't get an easy explanation for the Crooked World so we can dismiss its inhabitants as figments or phantoms or computer programs and stop caring about them. They're real, and they stay real throughout the book. Two, (which is linked to One,) Lyons doesn't press a reset button at the end, or destroy the whole world. The inhabitants live (most of them, anyway) to deal with the consequences of their newfound free will and the society they're beginning to make. This is all really happening. We don't switch it all off at the end and walk away.

That's what gives the book its momentum as well -- the whole thing just seems to proceed to its inevitable conclusion like water running downhill. From the beginning, where Streaky Bacon finds out the consequences of shooting people with guns, everything seems to flow naturally... all the way down to the end where Mr. Weasely gives his wonderful, wonderful speech about the consequences of a villainous life ("Yes, I did have choices, I can't deny it, but I was weak and I was selfish. I let other people make my decisions for me, and this is what they have brought me to.")

Admittedly, the book could come off as preachy to some -- to me, though, it was saved from that by the sense of purity. When the Doctor defends Jasper the cat in his trial for killing Squeak the mouse, what could come off as a bunch of speeches feels to me like these people are really thinking these thoughts for the first time, really considering these ideas as real, and having to grope their way to the conclusions on their own, just like we have. It's my favorite scene in the novel, and it really does define the book for me.

Not everything's perfect in the book -- Anji gets sidelined a lot, and Fitz... no, Fitz is still writer-proof as I think about him trying to describe "real" villainy by using James Bond movies as a guideline, and trying the moves on Angel Falls, only to find out she's not quite anatomically correct. Still, I understand now why The Crooked World ranked so highly, and why Steve Lyons was just the person to write it.

A near-perfect EDA. Who'd have thought? by Robert Smith? 19/5/03

The Crooked World feels like a return to form for Steve Lyons, although it's a form that hasn't actually been seen all that often. It reminds me most of Conundrum, which was another book with a wacky setting and hilarious jokes, but which also had a serious core and an emotional heart.

At first, I really thought this wasn't going to work. I mean, if you want to do a serious character examination, it's tough to do when those characters have trotters for hands and don't wear pants. On the other hand, while there's undoubtedly a lot of humour mileage in a cartoon world, if the reader isn't that familiar with cartoons this would be an uphill battle.

However, I'm extremely pleased to report that The Crooked World not only manages to overcome its inherent problems, it does so with considerable aplomb. I've watched my fair share of cartoons, but that was all so long ago that I honestly thought I'd be lost. However, Steve Lyons leads us nicely through the iconography of cartoon worlds, both setting up the conventions and mercilessly tearing them down, to hilarious effect.

The cartoon iconography makes for some fabulous worldbuilding, especially because we're at least partly familiar with some of it. And despite the fact that it isn't really what the book is 'about', there are a great many jokes here and they all work astonishingly well. Lyons excels at humour when he tries and he's on top form here.

However, it's in the character stuff that truly makes this book something special. Many DW books try for character stuff and fail miserably; it's hard to have character growth in a regular crew who must be in roughly the same position by the next book and most attempts at character stuff in the original characters have been laughably poor. But The Crooked World shows that it can be done and done well.

Streaky Bacon's journey is an amazing one, that really touches at our heartstrings. Jasper and Angel are also nicely rounded. Taking two dimensional caricatures and turning them into three dimensional characters -- and doing it convincingly -- is quite the achievement. By the time we get to Jasper's trial, it's hard to believe this is the same world depicted on the (utterly wonderful) cover.

Then there's the reaction of the TARDIS crew to this world. Fitz's attempts to cop off with Angel are hysterical, especially when he's caught out and has to explain sex to her, instead of just getting down to it. Anji's reaction to the idea of yet more talking dogs had me laughing out loud. And the Doctor manages to play the conventions very nicely indeed.

Indeed the whole idea of the TARDIS crew themselves being the catalyst for the changes is a great one. It's something that's been tried before, with not much success (Strange England, for example), and it's something that has the potential to be rather cheesily done, but it works a treat here.

Then there's the twist at the end, which is utterly fantastic. More so, because I wasn't expecting one, as the book didn't seem to need it, so it works even better. And the revelation of how all this began in the first place is really touching. This is what Grimm Reality could have been, but sadly wasn't.

It's a bit of a pity we don't see more of the Watchamacallit, after it gets a seemingly significant set-up at the beginning, but that's a very minor complaint indeed.

For a novel set in a cartoon universe of mindless violence, contrived plots and comic pratfalls, The Crooked World is surprisingly moving. There are some hilarious jokes scattered throughout and the worldbuilding is worth the price of admission alone. However, the seriousness works perfectly to offset the wacky setting, as characters undergo actual emotional growth, the regulars begin to understand and manipulate the world and the story rockets towards a conclusion that's both surprising and touching. I can't think of an EDA I've enjoyed more.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/12/03

I find the prolific Steve Lyons a bit of enigma in the DW world. His historicals are second to none. From Witch Hunters to the brilliant Fires of Vulcan, he has written some marvelous stories. He has a grasp on character that impresses, and the natural twists and turns of the DW format are really handled impressively. Yet he has also written some poor books. Time of Your Life springs to mind, as does Space Age.

When I heard that he was writing for the 8th Doctor again, and it was to be set in a cartoon world, I just wasn't sure. When the cover came out on the net, I was even more unsure about what lay within this bizarre looking book, with this bizarre idea at its core.

I didn't buy it at first. But then some glowing reviews appeared all over the place. I decided to give it a go. As I read I slowly and surely got pulled into this cartoon world. It felt familiar, like pulling on some comfy slippers. But then it wasn't quite the same. It was obvious who these characters were supposed to be, but I was constantly irritated that they weren't really referred by their real names.

This group of pseudonyms were characters I grew up with, and here they were in a DW book - the greatest character I grew up with. I had never connected the two worlds before. Steve Lyons must have had this strange idea, but amazingly it works.

Characters that are extremely one-dimensional on TV are given the impressive Lyons grasp of character development. By the end of the novel we feel empathy for a group of cartoon creations! I just never expected that, Steve Lyons gets another gold star on the DW excellence board.

I really like this TARDIS team. The 8th Doctor is a fascinating character now. The re-invention of last year has resulted in a more interesting Doctor than before. In Fitz and Anji he has two companions stronger than the bulk of previous incumbents in that role. Fitz is supremely likeable, you want to invite him round to dinner - you just know you'll have a fabulous time. Anji, a little colder maybe, but wiser too, is a fascinating character in her own right.

The Crooked World is the kind of book I was glad I had given my attention too. It does reward the reader with some unusual, yet homely characters and settings. Familiarity shrouded in aliases was the inevitable result of Warner Brothers TM ownership. But that is really the only problem I had with this book - and that was unavoidable.

One of the most different DW books I have read, for sure - but also a fabulous read. 8/10