Image of the Fendahl
The Psi Powers Series
Psi Powers Part Eight
|Author||Russell T. Davies|
|ISBN#||0 426 20483 2|
|Synopsis: The Quadrant is a troubled housing estate in Thatcher's Britian and a new drug is taking more of a grip than anyone could guess. However, some of the residents of the Quadrant have some special gifts, but a very determined woman is moving ever closer...|
A Review by Tom May 10/5/98
"There's a deadly new drug on the streets, and it's killing to a plan."
Damaged Goods is the first NA I've read for a while, and because of it, I really do want to read more NA's. The action is mainly set in and around a troubled Thatcher's Britain Tower Block, The Quadrant, in the year 1987.
The Quadrant, and it's very ordinary inhabitants hold many secrets, and their wall of silence hinders the Doctor in his bid to discover the nature of the horror. A lot of the story is based around a resurrected drug dealer, Simon Jenkins, aka The Capper. He is partly controlled by a dissembodied warlike intelligence from the ancient past. This though, as in Human Nature, takes back seat to the emotions of the leading characters.
The Doctor is very well written here, both wistful and forceful, and much is made of the power of the Seventh Doctor's eyes, and their stare. This was the first time I'd read Roz and Chris, the companions, and they seem well-versed in the Doctor's activities, bot not as good as Benny or Ace. There are too many important characters to recount properly so I'll just say that they are three-dimensional, have depth and are real. Each and every character has his/her story to tell, and does it superbly. Themes such as Homosexuality, Money/Love, and above all, the power of memory, are put across excellently.
This isn't a good book for anyone to start off with, as it is very graphic and harrowing at times. Drugs, violence, alcohol, expletives, sex and death all come in to play, and it's in a different world to the TV Series, it's real life. Only in Survival and perhaps The Curse of Fenric, was there realistic characterisation for the time the stories were set in. Survival shows urban Britain as dull, lifeless and dangerous, yet doesn't go as far as Damaged Goods, a truly great book in it's own right.
The style the story is told in is excellent, as are the epilogues, and it's sad to see that Russell T. Davies hasn't added further novels to the Doctor Who canon. 9/10
A Review by Sean Gaffney 16/9/99
Damaged Goods is excellent. Unpleasant to read at times, but still excellent. It reminded me of an episode of Cracker in that regard, you don't want to watch but you're fascinated.
PLOT: Brilliant. I kept expecting the Eviiil, eviiil from the dawn of time to take over, and it did for a moment. But in the end, it was the small, everyday tragedies of the Quadrant that were the real plot of the book, and the villain ended up being a very real woman, not a mad creature.
THE DOCTOR: Despairing at times. I've never seen him so desperate. We see him losing his subtleties, something that he said he was surprised about at first, and he is totally foxed until the very end, leading to the somewhat melancholy postscript.
ROZ: Very well done, as we see Roz' wish for order once again being ridiculed by the Doctor. We see a much softer Roz in this book, and she's all the better for it. I'll miss her.
CHRIS: An enigma, as usual. Very few authors have been able to get a handle on Chris, who only works when his fresh-faced youth approach is soured by events. He seems to walk through a cloud in this book.
OTHERS: There are so many important minor figures, it's hard to count. Russell gives all the minor characters in the Quadrant some character development, allowing them their moment in the sun. Done especially well are David and Harry. Also, despite all the death at the end, I was relieved to see Monica Jeffries survive, have her baby, live with her family, and have her son become a Doctor repoting to Harry Sullivan himself. Little happy, rewarding things like this. I love 'em.
VILLAIN: Well, not really. Eva is an attempt at the tragic figure; it's a relief to see a woman so mad that even the Doctor's rhetoric doesn't get through. Eva is totally dolally, and the sympathetic way this is shown is another big plus.
OTHER: It's interesting that, contrary to the Paul Cornell Doctor, Russell gives us a Doctor who isn't cool, who thinks that wicked is in style (and Ace was out of date by Remembrance), who doesn't know the Pet Shop Boys. It makes him more alien. Lots of great spot-the-ref moments, by the way.
OVERALL: Except for Chris, this is a truly cracking book in every way. If you liked Gareth's NAs, or Mark Gatiss', you might hate it. But I loved it.
An interview about Damaged Goods by Sanda Rodgers 24/9/00
(Robert Smith? notes: Sanda Rodgers is a non-fan friend who read Damaged Goods upon my recommendation. After pestering her mercilessly for a review, she eventually consented to answering some questions. Rumours that she has since emigrated and has seizures at any mention of the words "Doctor Who" are completely unfounded.)
>First off, did you find the book confusing or incomprehensible? It's one story in a much larger series of stories, which might have made you confused. Did you often find there were references to things that you just didn't get? If so, did this cause you problems, or could you just skip over them and move on?
One could of course just move on. If not I suppose that no one would read them, but it does suggest that if you are cool enough you would know and if you knew you could be part of this great group of - what Whoites, Whoees ?
>What did you think of the writing style, especially as someone used to reading more 'literate' - and certainly non science fiction, or horror - books?
I don't like science fiction any better than I liked this book but I did find that it was well written. This was a surprise. As well written as much mystery fiction and certainly not as bad as some. Better than I expected. Literate literature - a tony category certainly - has prose that is tasty, that tells you something about words and rhythm and feeling and complexity. This doesn't, but neither do potato chips and I like those too.
>You've mentioned that you found the book too gory in places. Was this irritating or did it actively cause you to dislike the book? Was this the only major flaw, or were there others?
I didn't actively dislike the book although I wouldn't have finished it left to my own devices. I found the gory science fiction style transformations and risings from the dead gratuitous and superfluous and ugly to contemplate. I suppose that they fall into the "oh cool" category for others but I find it hard to imagine why.
>Can you comment on the Doctor, Chris and Roz? They're the regular team at this point. I'm interested in seeing what you thought and whether they were conveyed well to someone unfamiliar with other books involving them.
This was the best part. I liked the three compatriots - Doctor Who and the two others whose names you either remember or have checked in the book. I found Dr. Who to be an attractive character - appealing, amusing and morally upright - but thinking back I believe that those attributes were really only barely sketched in, perhaps with the use of a few telling and touching adjectives, probably averted to in each of the series. Nonetheless it worked. I liked him and the others and the relationship between them, although that was only averted to and was another point that might have pulled you in to read more of the series. But it would be too much work to read all the rest of the junk - from my point of view- just to find out about the characters who are so little described.
I always like having a strong woman character - although kept numerically in balance by two male characters. Don't want to go too far? I thought the gay identification of Chris was left just a bit vague in a sort of "is that really what's happening" sort of way which might be understood to be either titillating or self protective on the part of the series - or perhaps just a bit too cool/correct.
>The book is rather graphic, both horrific and sexually. Did this have an adverse affect on your reading?
Graphic sexually? Can't remember and am too lazy to go back and look. What part exactly and why do you remember the book in such detail anyway? Oh right - all that gay male sex I suppose.
I thought the graphic horror, if that is what it is , was gross. No other word describes it and it seems childish, male and off putting to me. I suppose that lots of adults, some female, have good reason to like it though. That is when I thought I would put it down and would have if I hadn't promised to read and review it - with a bit of prodding.
>The book is also very evocative of 1980s Britain. Are you familiar with that at all? Did this have an impact on your enjoyment?
No. No. But it did make me think of Clockwork Orange.
>What did you think of the epilogues? These were the favourite part of the book, for me. One of the themes of the book is small actions having significant consequences, from Chris's encounter with David eventually leading to the cure of AIDS (since Chris is from the future and has the vaccine in his DNA), the fight between Eva and Sally Hunt being the original cause of Eva's resentment, as we discover that was the real reason for Eva's inability to produce children and also the irony that it wasn't the police record that had the Jerrichos turned down for adoption, but rather Alfred Jerricho. I loved the way this only came together right at the end. How about you?
This book has themes?
>Any other comments?
The review master has developed an excellent set of questions, but the exam is too long for the time the credits available.
A Review by Graeme Burk 9/7/01
The big event for Doctor Who fans in the nineties, at least in North America, was supposed to have been May 14, 1996 when the TV Movie made its debut. How wrong we were.
The Fox TV movie was a brilliantly cast, brilliantly directed, un-brilliantly written muddle of a production that blazed as brief as an atomic flash but dissipated impotently into nothingness, leaving a legacy of discontinued licensing agreements and the same 30 or so photos of Paul McGann to be used on merchandise.
It isn't even the best Doctor Who of the 1990s. Which was odd, since I sort of expected the TV Movie to have a decent shot at this title, seeing it was the only new TV story. But by the time 1996 closed, it was clear there was a far better contender for that title present.
I speak, of course, of Damaged Goods.
Damaged Goods for the non-cognoscenti, is a novel by the pre-Queer As Folk Russell T Davies, set in a council estate in the inner city of East End London in the 1980s. It's populated by profoundly flawed creatures like Bev Tyler, a 14 year-old girl dealing with profound insecurities and pregnancy scares; Harry Harvey, a bigoted homophobe who goes cruising for sex with other men in the nearby Smithfield graveyard; Mrs Hearn, a dear old biddy who gave up her freedom when she married 50 years ago and has always regretted it. Then there's the Capper, a brutal thug from the neighbourhood who, one day, douses himself with petrol and immolates himself, only to be resurrected as a creature of pure evil-in the same graveyard where Harry is looking for anonymous sex, no less.
Did I mention this was a Doctor Who book?
Make no mistake, this is Doctor Who. The fact that it uses Trainspotting as a literary source rather than, say, The Prisoner of Zenda or The Hands of Orlac is just a sign of how the series can evolve. It isn't that broad a stretch when you think about it. The last televised Doctor Who story, Survival was the first Doctor Who story to ever see a housing estate; Ghost Light has a considerable backstory in Ace's friend Manisha getting firebombed by racist yobs. Doctor Who was entering the 1990s acknowledging for the first time that urban Britain existed as something other than a place for Autons to massacre people in the high streets.
Given this trend, who knows, Damaged Goods could have happened on telly - admittedly minus some of its more adult trappings (although minus not that many - pre-watershed viewing in Britain also evolved in the nineties). Especially since, at the heart of this book is what is at the heart of so many of the best Doctor Who stories - a morality play, a cunning use of metaphor, and a good opportunity to scare grown-up children.
Strip away the urban decay that makes up Damaged Goods' trappings and you find a very basic morality play of the sort that not only Doctor Who filches from, but the sort that makes up good literature. Eva Jerricho, a spoiled, deeply wounded and callous woman, tries to buy things to fill the void in her life - including her own child, whom she purchased from Bev Tyler's mother. The child turns out to be sickly and she wants to return him in exchange for child's twin, who is in perfect health - rather like her habit of creating 'damaged goods' out of things Eva buys from the shops and returning them. It's not that far off from the morality plays of stories like The Caves of Androzani, except that author Davies ups the ante a little. His morality play is not just about materialism at the cost of people, but how materialism gets mixed-up with maternalism as though they were interchangeable - a rather disturbing but incisive critique at that.
This is tied up in the use of metaphor in the novel. Eva ends up transformed into a monster that is in turn driven by another monster: a lithopedian, a miscarried foetus which has calcified in her womb and become telepathic. It's monster-as-metaphor, something Doctor Who has been doing since its creation. Drugs are also used as metaphor. In Damaged Goods there's cocaine that carries within its molecular structure the constituent elements to create an Evil Since The Dawn of Time. Critics often pooh-pooh the New Adventures for using drugs in its storyline, as though it were advocating them. And yet, here the message is clear: do drugs, become transformed into an ancient Gallifreyan attack weapon gone horribly wrong. Even Nightmare of Eden didn't go that far.
The TV series was great at taking our fear of the unknown, or our fears of what humankind has done and masking them in scary clothes. Damaged Goods takes the darkest parts inside humanity and makes them an external force, and it's scary. The last third of a book - perhaps the only book out of the hundred or more published which doesn't let the reader down with the dénouement - is dark stuff akin to works like Neil Gaiman's Sandman story "24 Hours". It's bleak and it's utterly horrific in how it kills off so many of these little people we have grown to care about - but at the centre of it is the Doctor, staring down the unstoppable evil, being utterly heroic as he always does.
That said, it's the sort of a story which could have been looked like a checklist of clichés that offend people most about the New Adventures had it been in the hands of any other writer. What makes Damaged Goods work is that it's written with some of the best prose ever witnessed within the range. Prose that is evocative, haunting, thoughtful and scary. Prose that knows which questions it will ask and knows which ones it will answer.
In short it's good storytelling.
The best of Doctor Who in each decade was about pushing the boundaries of what the previous decade had done - taking on new storytelling techniques, new ideas, new cultural influences and adding it to the mix. That's what made Doctor Who so great when it was being done by Lambert and Whitaker, by Wiles and Tosh, by Sherwin and Bryant, by Hinchcliffe and Holmes and by Cartmel. At the same time, it doesn't forget the essential "magic" of Doctor Who: good storytelling, imaginative ideas, evocation of mood and setting, horror and the absurd.
Damaged Goods did that and so much more. Damaged Goods is, for my money, the best Doctor Who of the 1990s.
A Review by Mike Morris 28/8/01
Two things. Firstly, Damaged Goods is a good Doctor Who novel. Not one I enjoyed, but certainly good. However, I'm going to be a little overly-negative here, because I feel the "Damaged Goods is great" side have already made their case. Secondly, there's spoilers coming, so you've been warned.
Damaged Goods reminds me of The Daemons. No, honestly. I'm not saying the Gallifreyan-killer-thingy that hides in a line of coke is anything like Azal Last of the Daemons. Rather, it's in the question of why it's so popular. The Daemons is popular because it took Doctor Who a new area, the area of occult-worship; an area where it was so comfortable that we wondered why it had never been done before. And Damaged Goods finally immersed Doctor Who into grim, gritty, housing-estate reality, somewhere it had threatened to go on many occasions (Survival being the obvious candidate) but never quite managed. It was a revelation to see just how comfortable Doctor Who was in this brave new world.
But - and here's the rub - The Daemons just isn't all that good. Once the initial shock of devil-worship wears off, it's tacky, badly-acted, cosy, with a terrible conclusion and a hugely unlikeable Doctor. Similarly (although not to the same degree), Damaged Goods is not - in my opinion - the amazing tome it's supposed to be. Gritty doesn't necessarily mean good, or indeed worthy. Gritty just means gritty. And after so many loving descriptions of men sewing up their own chests, of stone foetuses (anyone know what the plural of foetus is?) clawing through a woman's womb, of blood dripping from between women's legs, all this and a million-and-one nasty deaths, I finished the book and was left wondering; what was it all for?
The answer, the obvious answer, is; nothing. Nothing at all.
And in a way this is valid. Of course it is. I've said before that, when you're dealing with a bloke who saves planets, adopting the 'shit happens' approach to life is a bit perverse; but in the hostile, real-world environment that Damaged Goods adopts, it's more acceptable. The Doctor's victories can be smaller, because the opposition he faces is greater. It isn't the kind of thing I want from my Doctor Who, it's not why I started watching the programme, if things continued in this vein I'd stop reading. Arguments can, I suppose, be made that it shouldn't be done, but I'm not going to make them here. Let's accept that it's a valid approach.
Well, fine, but Damaged Goods doesn't go down this road with the conviction it needs. Instead, coming out of all the destruction is, is, a cure for AIDS.
This is mentioned in a single paragraph at the end, replete with a Harry Sullivan namecheck. It comes via a ludicrously implausible gay sex scene earlier on, that had me wondering at the time why this had been thrown in; it felt like a crowd-pleasing cor-get-just-how-radical-this-is gesture. No, it's the lead-in to a throwaway reference that's just plain crass. Imagine the Doctor discovering a cure for cancer and think how saccharinely grotesque that storyline would be. This isn't any better. A cure for AIDS just isn't the sort of thing an author should throw in at the end of a story because he doesn't have the guts to follow through the logical consequence of this story; that the Doctor will lose. There's something irredeemably tasteless about marrying a disease that's reaching epidemic proportions in Africa, and a time-travelling eccentric with a dimensionally-transcendental police box. An AIDS theme might just be made to work if dealt with seriously over the course of a novel, but its use here horrified me.
And suddenly, with a single paragraph, the world that I had been reluctantly sucked into just came crashing down around me. Damaged Goods fell to pieces. It suddenly felt self-important and nasty. The use of The Quadrant, and of drug-dealers, felt like a look-at-me cheap attempt to be seen bringing Doctor Who into a brand new oh-so-socially-relevant world. The violence, the knifings and the home-made surgery wasn't a commendable attempt at reality, it was meaningless goriness and violence. The hopeless ending, where more or less everybody dies, wasn't a grim and realistic finale, it was a boring way of hammering home the 'reality' that Damaged Goods is so proud of itself for creating.
If the Doctor is going to exist in the world of social reality, his victories have to be real as well, not throwaway references that are grotesquely tasteless. If the Doctor had saved just one person, just one, in a way that had meaning, then that would have been sufficient and wonderful and beautiful. But, no matter how heroic the Doctor is at the climax (and he really is) he doesn't save anyone. In fact, he's made to be every bit as ineffectual as in any EDA (it amazes me that Interference is criticised for this, whereas it's perfectly acceptable here. At least the Doctor wins in Interference). But, of course, he's Time's Champion folks, so he's never really ineffectual. And then there's the sickening AIDS cure at the end, just to reassure us that hey, everything's fine, everything was really necessary.
Damaged Goods does not, in truth, have great themes or deep meanings. It's pulpy horror in a socially realistic setting, but that doesn't make it meaningful. This is acceptable; what isn't acceptable is that it has ideas above its own station, which leads to it being tasteless and pretentious at points.
That's enough. I like Damaged Goods. The points that have been made in its favour are valid, and I accept them. The prose is understated and lovely, the characters are magnificent, the villain is beautifully human. The way that it all stems back to a small and understandable sin is gorgeous. There's huge amounts of pathos, and there's so many understated, strong characters in here. But it's nowhere near the standard of some of the other, better known 'greats' of the Virgin line, for the reasons I've outlined above. Rags has far more moral courage than Damaged Goods; it has no illusions about its meaninglessness. What I've referred to is no more than undercurrent to Damaged Goods, but it's enough to stop this story being great and relegate it to the ranks of the interesting.
I just felt that needed saying.
A Review by Finn Clark 14/12/01
Whoah there! I knew this was Graeme Burk's nomination as Best Who o' the Nineties, so I went in with a certain level of anticipation, but even so... that's something else. As brutal and evocative as Henrietta Street, perhaps more so. Child prostitution, gay sex galore, cocaine, lovingly described ultra-violence and all of it within a story that's completely and utterly Whoish. My eyes were on stalks. This book is both shocking and beautiful, sometimes both simultaneously.
It's full of terrific stuff. Mrs Jericho is an astonishingly rich, deep, damaged character and a jaw-dropping 'monster' that in any other book would be the highlight by several gazillion light-years... yet Davies's other characters aren't overshadowed by her at all. She's just part of the tapestry.
Russell T. Davies is writing about the little people, but he takes pains to emphasise that despite the mundane setting, everything still matters. The Doctor's speech on page 56 might be the best in the NAs. Don't be fooled by the deceptive ease with which the author makes us care about what happens - this is something difficult he's made look effortless.
As the latest instalment of the Psi-Powers Arc it's not so great, though. Yet again the ongoing element introduced in the previous book gets no more than a shoehorned cameo, downplayed in favour of this book's ideas. Here it's the N-forms. Never has it been more obvious that an "arc" was constructed around a bunch of mostly unrelated submissions.
However it doesn't matter, because by the time you finish this book you don't care about anything but the events therein. It's a magnificent, awful tragedy. It's as shocking as a Mortimore, but always Whoish because of its focus on the people. You knew and cared about them all (though the Skinners don't get quite the screen time they deserved; Russell perhaps forgot that a fleeting image on TV burns itself into the memory more vividly than a fleeting line in a passing paragraph). Believe the hype. This might be hard to read at times and a lot more adult in its subject matter than some would like Doctor Who to be, but it's one of the finest novels yet published that bears the logo.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 11/10/02
Damaged Goods is a collection of violent clashes. Gritty Drama and Science Fiction/Horror; subjective viewpoints with omniscient narrators; powerful weapons from strange dimensions and the desires of one unhinged woman; appearances and the reality underneath.
It's a deliberate choice on Russell Davies' part. Usually, other writers who have taken this route have made attempts to blend their diverse elements together, hiding the seams (Unnatural History is a prime example of this), however, Davies seems to use the collisions of style as spring boards of creativity. Other reviewers have discussed "Magical Realism" in terms of the works of Paul Magrs, but you can see the same concept played out in Damaged Goods, but with weird science replacing the fairy tales and fantastical elements normally associated with Magic Realism.
Damaged Goods, the title, is also a recurring theme. We see this play out in all the characters: Winnie with her midnight deal, Eva with her psychosis, Harry with his closeted desires, Roz with her frustration of being left out of the loop, Bev's unknown hatred of her Mum, Gabriel's psi powers, the Doctor in his inability to get involved with the locals of the quadrant, and his despair at not being able to solve things before the damage is done. Roz assumes at the end of the novel that the Doctor knew of the impending chaos and slaughter the N-Form would cause, but Davies hints that the Doctor wants to prevent it from happening at all.
Similar to what Simon Messingham does in The Face Eater, Davies allows us to really get to know the principal characters: Bev, David, Harry, Winnie, Eva; developing them, having us know who they are and what makes them tick. Eva is a woman on the verge of a breakdown. It's her dementia that is a catalyst in the damage caused by the N-Form laced cocaine. David and Harry are the first realistically portrayed gay characters in the Virgin Line. What makes it better is that their sexual orientation is not their sole justification for existing, but is used as a catalyst for how they interact with the other players and events in Damaged Goods. This not only miles away from Paul Cornell's feel-good epilogue character changes in Human Nature, but also shows how such characters should be handled.
The regulars are all right. The Doctor is in mysterious mode (boring) but not to the point where it annoyed me. I like how he had a hard time connecting with the residents of the Quadrant, and how he confronts the enemy head on in the end (which is how it should be done). Roz, in her penultimate story, is kept on the sidelines. She's okay, but doesn't do much until the end. Chris Cwej goes on a wild goose chase for drugs, but has a great moment where he and David talk about sexuality. Double bonus points for no TARDIS crew angsting.
The N-Form is begging to be done in an anime (Japanese styled animation) format. Davies does a commendable job describing the N-Form in the book. It could never be done convincingly in the television format. The concept is well executed, and is one of the better monster creations in the books. The N-Form reminded me of the Cenobites of the Hellraiser series, but more technological. The Capper is an interesting red herring, seemingly important, but in reality a plot catalyst, like Eva's madness and the cocaine.
The epilogue -- It bothered me. Well, not all of it, but the section about the HIV cure. It didn't fit with all the tragedy, and felt like a sop as to some form of a happy ending.
My other complaint about Damaged Goods was that for all the deep characterization we get, I felt a detachment from the narrative. In fact, it was the detachment that gave me a few days pause before I sat down to write out my review. For all the tragedy Davies tosses at us -- the Tyler Family is destroyed, the Quadrant is levelled -- I never felt anything, which I found disconcerting, especially because of the effort made to define the characters and have their concerns become mine. In the early chapters, I was definitely into the stories of Bev, Eva, Winnie, Harry, David, Gabriel and the others. But by the end, when the N-Form forces itself into reality and the slaughter commences, I cared less and less about them. In a strange move, although bold, the one character you thought would make it intact, Bev, dies in the Doctor's arms (after the requisite "Bastard" namecalling), and it didn't upset me.
I like Damaged Goods. I wanted to like it more. I think it's one of the better example of how you can tell any time of story within the Doctor Who format. But I wanted to like this book more, and it's a shame that I couldn¹t for the reasons I listed.
Easily the Worst Novel I've Ever Read by Isaac Wilcott 30/4/03
I'm one of those people who keeps every single book he ever buys, even the ones he didn't like. My shelf space is very limited, so many books reside in boxes, though carefully preserved and taken out now and again to "cycle" them with ones on the shelf, or reread them. I enjoy almost all of what I read and seem to have less exacting standards for fiction than most people. I'm very forgiving of authors for their peculiarities and faults, and effortlessly enjoy what is despised by the more-critical majority.
It should come as a great surprise to everyone, then, that I absolutely loathe Damaged Goods. More than loathe -- there are no words to describe how much revulsion on a mental and spiritual level this novel aroused. It's by far the worst novel I've ever read, and this is coming from someone who's read thousands. I read it about five years ago -- it's taken me that long to cool down enough to write this more level-headed review.
At first this book struck me as ridiculous if nothing else. But around page 100, when it became clear that things were not beginning to brighten, it passed the RIDICULOUS point and became MONOTONOUS. By page 150 it had reached the THIS AUTHOR IS OBVIOUSLY DEEPLY DISTURBED point. By page 200 I was literally gagging and sick at heart.
What, you may ask, provoked this response? Page after page after page of carefully and lovingly described death and devastation, torment and rage, mutilation and horror, pain and suffering, perversion and manipulation -- on and on and on and on and on. Nothing else. All the characters were the lowest, basest dregs of humanity, doing the worst imaginable things to each other and to themselves. No love, no hope, no joy -- only suffering and death.
I love gratuitous violence as much as the next man, but honestly! This (so-called) novel is nothing but gratuitous violence. For instance there is one scene where a woman murders her husband in an excessively grisly fashion, for no better reason than the dead infant inside her womb "told her to." That's what I think happened, anyway; Davies didn't seem too keen to let the readers know what was going on, beyond drenching us in blood. If you're going to have your characters run amuck, at least provide a credible explanation.
Presenting violence and its consequences realistically is one thing, but this is wallowing in it, loving it, and holding it up as a wonderful experience. Never before have I encountered such an attitude taken to the extremes presented here. No matter what his stated rationale may be, the author (I hate to say it) is apparently a very sick individual, who adores and glorifies blood and pain, wrapping himself up in a warm blanket of hate and death. Absolutely sickening.
This book is also unoriginal and dull, arising, no doubt, from the repetition of the above-mentioned mayhem. And the few variations of horrifying death presented are nothing new: there are all sorts of automated killer machines from ancient Gallifrey (yawn) rearing their ugly cross-dimensional heads by erupting from the bodies of various cocaine addicts (gag, yawn) taking possession of people to function as operators (yawn) and devastating much of London after the joining between mad-woman and machine exponentially increases the savagery of each (yawn). All of this happens without anyone noticing, apparently. Thousands die, and yet somehow by the end of the book it's all fobbed off as "well, just a typical day in the shadier districts of London." It makes UNIT's emergency evacuation of London in Invasion of the Dinosaurs seem believable by comparison.
I was determined to finish reading this novel, and I did. I then promptly tore it in half, then into tiny bits, and threw it into the garbage where it obviously originated. This is the only novel I have ever intentionally mistreated, damaged, or thrown away, and it deserved it. Ptui.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 28/3/04
Despite the continued release of massively restored old adventures onto DVD, over the course of the next twelve months Damanged Gods will almost certainly be the Doctor Who story most revisited by fans. The reason is obvious. When author Russell T Davies wrote Daaged Goods in 1996, he was simply a promising newcomer who had some relatively impressive television credits to his name. Since then, his career has done nothing but rise. He produced, created and wrote Queer as Folk, Touching Evil, and The Second Coming, was nominated for Sainthood, saved the humpbacked whale from extinction, caused the breakup of the Spice Girls, tricked a Martian invasion fleet to fly into the sun, and was named Producer of the still unseen Doctor Who TV revival. For Doctor Who fans, the last of these accomplishments is naturally the most important.
I never got around to reading Damaged Goods when it was first published; as with many of the books of this era (through no fault of their own) I found myself simply far too busy to get around to it. I knew of its impressive reputation and was pleased when I eventually secured a copy. So when I finally opened the cover I already knew that this Davies guy would be The Producer, The Writer And Main Pooh-Bah Of Doctor Who. I found myself giving the book more scrutiny than I otherwise would have, simply to see if I could find clues as to what sort of series he will create based on what he had written here.
Upon completion of the book, I realized that this approach is, of course, absolute nonsense. What I didn't get out of the book was that the new series will feature two ex-cops as companions, or will take place in a London housing estate, or will feature big, evil monsters from Gallifrey's past. What I did take away was the book's fabulous attention to detail, Davies' ability to create sympathetic, flawed, interesting characters, and his talent for pulling them all into an engaging plot that gives each person an important part to play.
Doctor Who on television almost always worked when it had interesting and believable characters. Whether the characters were realistic was another matter entirely, and while the concepts sometimes dovetailed, this, I feel, was rare. Sharaz Jek (to pick an example totally at random) is a fascinating creation whose obsessive behavior is believably conveyed. But you couldn't imagine him at the far future's equivalent of a supermarket, because within the actual story of The Caves of Androzani it made more sense to have a collection of archetypes rather than someone you would expect to meet on the street (or in any place outside the confines of the story being told). Davies manages to express both in his only Doctor Who novel (so far), which is a fantastic bonus as far as I'm concerned. His characters are interesting, believable, and also realistic. This formula certainly wouldn't be appropriate (or possible) for every Doctor Who story, but here it works, and thanks to Davies' skills, it works extremely well. Damaged Goods is fantasy grounded in realism, which can't be an easy thing to successfully pull off.
Getting to the book itself, one of the first wishes I have is that hopefully with the new series in production, Davies will find some spare time to write some more novels (or novelisations), because his prose is wonderful. His sense of timing, his ability to effectively pace the story, and his sense of setting the proper atmosphere is superb. A scene with a dead corpse returning to life is exactly the right amount of creepy and sinister. It's nicely evocative of those Hinchcliffe-era horror stories without containing anything that feels like a retread or a copy. Pieces of it reminded me at times of the psychological horror/thrillers that Stephen Gallagher wrote in his post-Doctor Who days.
Although the story is great from cover to cover, I found myself most enjoying the little things that the book did. Little moments of humanity liberally scattered through the sections of pure horror... and, of course, the novel's themes. In Damaged Goods, the dead past never really leaves the living present. Apart from the obvious zombie rising-from-the-dead parallels, there's a depressed middle-aged man who talks to the voice of his dead wife in his head, and secrets from character's pasts that never quite seem to go away. Constant and subtle repetitions of the book's themes go a long ways towards making the book coherent and powerful. The "damaged goods" of the title conveys a theme that is shockingly horrific. The more I thought about the book's content, the more I appreciated it. Revelations towards the end echo subject matter introduced earlier, making me gasp not only at the twist, but also at how deviously it subverted and built upon the seemingly innocuous prior passages.
So, what can we take from Damaged Goods to look towards how the new Doctor Who series will turn out? The subject matter, the number of continuity references, the balance of humor to drama? No. At the moment, we just can't make meaningful predictions without making them so general as to be worthless. The only important thing to take from Damaged Goods is that Russell T Davies is a damn good writer, and if he writes half as well for Doctor Who today as he did eight years ago, then I expect to be very pleased with the results. If you had told me six months ago the new producer for TV Doctor Who was named "Russell", I think I would have been ill. But reading Damaged Goods has given me a lot of hope that Davies is the right Russell for the job.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/10/04
I missed this book when it was released in 1995. The New Adventures lost much of their interest, and this tale of council flats and drug use would have been avoided back then. There's a certain Russell T Davies as the writer however though - and this book is back in fashion again. And so, thanks to a good friend, I was able to acquire a copy - not to keep, to borrow.
Damaged Goods is indeed a tale of council flats and drug use. There's plenty of other controversial material in here too - prostitution, gay sex and mass violence amongst them. And yet I couldn't help but be captivated by much of it. I went in to the book, expecting to be offended, but emerged with yet more admiration for RTD - who without doubt is the single biggest reason we are getting a new show in 2005.
What RTD does here is make the commonplace extraordinary - and that for me is the essence of Who. It is something he will undoubtedly bring to the new series in 2005. The local council estate becomes as alien an environment as anything the Doctor has ever encountered. The players in the novel feel real, yet extraordinary. RTD fleshes them out wonderfully well, with appetites and passions on their sleeves.
I also found the Doctor's portrayal interesting. I had forgotten just how mysterious and detached the 7th Doctor had become. I read the New Adventures sporadically in the mid 90s, but have not read one since I read Lungbarrow, about a year after its release. So that makes a good 8 years without this type of Who novel. What a complex character he had become now - the great chess player, who sacrifices his pawns when needed, and that's quite a lot of times.
I also enjoyed reading about Chris and Roz. I can only recall Terrance Dicks' excellent Shakedown, as a book that brought them alive for me. As the Doctor sent them on errand after errand, so I understood this period of Who better. Chris and Roz were pawns, just as everyone else was, but they were closer to the action for us.
The writing style is fluid and fascinating. The whole story flies by. The monster admittedly is not that good, but the way it affects the players in the book is what strikes a chord here. RTD writes beautifully, and that makes me even more excited about the new series. In 2005 I am sure we will be in for a treat, that will fulfill our expectations, and maybe even go beyond.
It was silly to miss Damaged Goods 9 years ago, but the anomaly has been corrected. This is an excellent book, and I would love to see it reprinted so I can acquire my own copy. This one has to go back to my mate (who ironically didn't like it all that much!). 9/10