The Deadstone Memorial
|ISBN||0 563 48622 8|
|Synopsis: There is no such thing as a good night. You may think you can hide away in dreams. Safely tucked up in bed, nothing can touch you. But, as every child knows, there are bad dreams. And that dreams are where the monsters are. The Doctor knows all about monsters. And he knows that sometimes they can still be there when you wake up. And when the horror is more than just a memory, there is nowhere to hide.|
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 2/11/04
Once in a while a book comes along that is so wonderful, you just want to shout from the rooftops how brilliant it is! You read it with a grin on your face knowing that this is why Doctor Who is the best idea ever. You want to punch the air in triumphalism, that you are part of this great universe - and that you are a Doctor Who fan. That you have invested so much time and effort into this amazing character, and his marvellous world - and that someone out there has written a book that is everything you want from DW.
This was classic "bringing the Doctor home". Baxendale stated his intention to write a more consolidated book, a local threat. A book that was to be set around one house, and the dark mysterious woods nearby. The action would never go too far away from this limited, yet brilliant stage. This could be anywhere - the author doesn't tell us - it's readers choice.
All you need to know is that the Doctor becomes involved with the family of Hazel, Jade and Cal - and he is striving to counter the mysterious force that consumes them. The Doctor is here helping them only. There is no indication that it affects anybody else - but it does clearly affect this family - and the Doctor (helped by Fitz and Trix) is there to help.
It brings the Doctor wonderfully local - and as a result we have a totally Doctor-centric book. The story is of the Sapphire and Steel variety - a Chimes of Midnight with more recognizable people, if you like. The old man, creepy Crawley, who lives in an old cottage, and scares the kids who pass with his ghost Stories. The school teacher Harris - a loner, who jogs and hates dogs. Tommo the world weary gypsy, his only family Lewis - a scruffy youth.
I was captivated. I lapped it up, and it took me a very short time to read (for me anyway). I've always rated Baxendale books, and here he has excelled himself - and produced one of the best of the whole range. It's a book that starts superbly in establishing the above characters. It's a book that is constantly engaging. It's a book that concludes majestically. I read the last 50 pages in a dim-lighted room - and cheered as the last paragraph was read. It had maintained its excellence throughout, and even some of the very best books don't do that.
I loved the everyday occurrences that the Doctor embraced, like cooking the family a meal. The glorious scene where the Doctor takes the mother, Hazel, on the roof of the shed, to look at the stars. It's about bringing the Doctor home, it's about capturing the essence of what I love about Doctor Who - and weaving a brilliant story around it. The Doctor is a true hero, and his companions wonderful too - I truly felt pangs of regret that this TARDIS team would shortly be finishing their continued adventures.
But then something wonderful is about to replace it, and that's how Doctor Who has survived for so long. If the new series can capture the spirit of this kind of book - then it will succeed. Judging from this one and the last, Sleep of Reason, the 8th Doctor is bowing out in complete glory. 10/10
Dark fantasy... by Joe Ford 12/11/04
Just a few things before I start.. what a great title! The Deadstone Memorial must be up there with Image of the Fendhal and Inferno as must-see/read titles... it conjours up lots of scary images and the intriguing nightmarish blurb merely adds to the tension. I could not wait to open this up.
But first I had to get past the cover! What a mess! Stock forest footage and McGann image given a little negative tweaking makes for a very uninspiring start. Maybe if they had taken the Doctor out it would have been better because the back cover with just the glowing trees and swathing mist was much better.
Fortunately once you get past this handicap you are treated to a superb dark fantasy, the sort that Doctor Who has the ability to do so well far more often than it does thanks to its malleable format. Billed by writer Trevor Baxendale as The Exorcist meets Mary Poppins (!!!?), the story also steals horrors from a thousand other sources. Jeepers Creepers, Poltergeist, Blair Witch... I even spotted some illusions to the Buffy episode Grave and the Voyager episode Memorial! But rather than churning out a mish mash of spent horror cliches, Baxendale whips up his material in an extremely inventive way, offering a tight cast of characters experiencing some truly nightmarish experiences. It is the sort of fast paced, exciting and bloody terrifying tale that more authors should take a stab at, the events roll on and on, getting worse and worse but throughout the Doctor is shining beacon of hope, laughing his way through the terror. I sprinted through the book like an unstoppable force, caring about the characters, wincing at the nastiness and revelling in the repair work Baxendale does for the regulars.
Are there only two more EDAs to go? I wish these last few were really shit because it is going to be really hard to say goodbye...
The first few chapters are truly haunting, beautifully contained within one house. Cal McKeown is having frightening nightmares, terrifying visions that leave him black eyed and sweaty, vomiting blood and screaming out incantations. His mother, Hazel, is fraught with panic, unable to hold him down or help him. From out of the blue emerges a man, a longhaired eccentric who claims he is the Doctor, who says he can help... It was the sheer domestication of the Doctor during the first third of the book that impressed me so much, the very idea of him treating a private horror in one house as important as saving the entire universe (following up on his statement saying as much in The Sleep of Reason, a similarly themed but entirely different sort of book) is fantastic and seeing him here, washing the dishes, making the food, playing with the kids is a heart-warming image. Maybe another Doctor could achieve this level of human contact but I doubt it could be portrayed with such joi de vivre! Of course he is there for a serious reason, Cal's nightmares are linked to the main plot but I love how the Doctor is determined to tidy up after his adventures now, making sure the people whose lives he disrupts are happy. The Doctor really is Mary Poppins!
Fitz and Trix are in on all the house help too and I suggest Rob Matthews and Finn Clark give this book a read to see just how effective they still are as companions. There were some marvellous scenes between the Doctor and Fitz here where their love for each other shines through. How Fitz opens up to his friend, telling him the Earth doesn't feel like his home any more, his home is where the Doctor is, is very touching. They wander through the haunted wood scared out of their wits and cheering each other up by shouting out their favourite Earthy things, it is delightfully funny and heart-warming. Whilst it is clear that Fitz is having doubts about where he truly belongs these days when it appears the Doctor is not coming back at the novel's climax, he is clearly distraught at the thought of being forced out of the TARDIS.
Baxendale honestly admitted he had no place for Trix's image changing skills in his book and instead focuses on her continuing softening up and integration into that TARDIS team. It is great to actually see her and her friends solving a mystery together, actually doing all the legwork as a team rather than splitting off and doing their own thing. There are plenty of top Trix moments, panicking as she is left in charge of Cal as his eyes start leaking blood, investigating Old Man Crawley's house with a loony (the Doctor) and a coward (Fitz), contacting Anji and asking about Chloe... don't get me wrong, that icy veneer is still very much evident, how she deals with a vicious attack on the Doctor proves that (she smashes the guy over the head with a Whiskey bottle!) but she is much, much warmer with her companions now, even offering Fitz a bed at her house as it appears they will have to leave the TARDIS at the climax. Plus in a teasing moment we get close to discovering just what her secret past is as she phones her mother. But what's with the name? I thought her name was Beatrix Macmillan not Tricia McAllister? Will we ever know everything about this mysterious woman? Whilst she is proving a firm member of the team there is still more to discover...
But forget the companions when you think of how well Baxendale captures the Doctor. Last year the eighth Doctor was somewhat lost amongst the heavy arc he was holding up, losing some of his magic but it has been rectified this year, the writers determined to see this media-mostly Doctor go out on a high. I have rarely seen him written this hysterically, he is like a whirling ball of energy and desperate to help people and not caring who thinks he is utterly mad as long as he does some GOOD. It suddenly struck me during The Deadstone Memorial that the eighth Doctor is the most selfless of the lot, constantly throwing himself in front of the train (metaphorically speaking) to save the screaming victim no matter how splattered he might get in the meantime. It has become a defining trait and he has been abused, beaten, ripped open, mind wiped... you name it, but he doesn't care because he is helping to save somebody else. How special is that?
The scene where he drags Hazel out to gaze at the stars highlights the enchantment of the eighth Doctor. They stand there on the roof waving at the star and she feels stupid, silly, embarrassed but suddenly realises that she is enjoying herself. That is the magic the eighth Doctor brings, the possibility of wonder and excitement. When she waves up at the stars at the end it is a poignant reminder of how he can touch people's lives.
His scenes with the kids are very special indeed, it is almost as if he has finally found someone on his level! But whilst he is playing "Dad" and getting closer to his companions, he is still facing evils and righting wrongs. I loved his nervous excitement at breaking into the house and nosing around, I loved his eagerness to explore the crypt beneath the Deadstone Memorial and I loved his desperation to save even the smallest of lives, the dogs and the rats included. Most of all I loved the image of the Doctor, Fitz and Trix running back to the TARDIS and laughing together. Real friends.
But wait I haven't even discussed the plot which is just a fabulous as all this character junk. Horror Who has moved on since the early days of The Bodysnatchers and here Baxendale wants nothing more than to scare the shit out of you and make you squirm with revulsion. You name it, it's here. Possession (Cal whispering to himself when everybody has left his bedroom is really creepy), underground horrors (a gnarled, tree root creature that vomits mud), nightmares (the Doctor's skull cracks open and a rat claws its way out), creepy-crawlies (worms, centipedes, rats, crawling all over you!). Baxendale's writing has improved immensely since his freshman days on The Janus Conjunction and he captures these disgusting scenes with crystal sharp ickiness. "Cal screamed and thrashed and blood welled from his eyes until they looked like blackcurrants swimming in their own crimson juice." Eugh... and you haven't read anything until you experience the rat attack, Baxendale playing with you, letting you think its safe until... eek, eek, eek...
The central plot is typical Baxendale, sharp as a pin and rather simple when you strip away all the trappings and get down to the nitty gritty facts. It remains his most successful though because nothing is left unexplained and the story blossoms at a superb pace with some nice surprises. Uncovering the facts of Deadstone Memorial leaves you eager to find out just what the hell is going on and the answers do not disappoint. All the characters are used effectively and reach a good conclusion, even nasty buggers like Crawley and Tommo.
Shockingly the McKeown family remind me of my dear friend Susan and her two kids Abi And CJ! The first scene with them all squabbling over leaving the fridge door open, text messages and what's for dinner could have been tape-recorded from their house! True they haven't been visited by a despicable evil force (unless you include me) but Baxendale obviously turned to his own family for inspiration here and the result is very realistic indeed. Even down to Jade's irritating fifteen-year-old tantrums! Where this story differs wildly from the last EDA which also dealt with a child linked to a supernatural evil is that that the McKeown family is where the realism ends, the horrors of The Deadstone Memorial being those of the imagination whereas much of The Sleep of Reason's horror sprang from human emotions. Which leaves The Deadstone Memorial in a better position to abuse its children and when possessed they are truly terrifying creations, snarling, deformed monsters. It is easy to feel for Hazel who is helpless to save her kids.
Better than Eater of Wasps? I'd say so and that was one of my all time favourites. We just haven't had a book like this in a while, Halflife was strong SF, The Tomorrow Windows a frivolous laugh riot, The Sleep of Reason a experimental chiller... The Deadstone Memorial brings us back to an Earth we can all recognise and plucks fantastical terrors from your worst nightmares and lets them loose. It's a very satisfying tale and one that highlights how strong the eighth Doctor's character is right up to his upcoming conclusion.
A Review by Donald McCarthy 14/3/05
The books from Sometime Never... onwards have been outstanding. I'm tempted to go back and buy Emotional Chemistry so I can say how they've been good since then.
This book does not break that streak. I was sick when I read it and I just needed something good to read. I was hoping for a nice little story that would move along. I never expected to not be able to put the book down.
First let's talk about the characters.
The Doctor: I could hear and see Paul's Doctor throughout this whole novel. Every sentence seemed like something he would say. His running across the roof with Hazel was so well written that I had to check the cover and see if this wasn't a Lance Parkin novel. Brilliant characterization there.
Fitz: He's Fitz, good as always. Spot on characterization.
Trix: She still feels new to the TARDIS but Baxendale creates a lovable character out of whatever he's been given from the previous books (notably Halflife). I'm glad to see her get some more character but I'm sure Finn Clark will still hate her (hey, I felt the same way about Anji!).
Hazel and her family: I cared about each member of the family, especially Hazel. Each person felt like a friend who you care deeply about. The two kids were exactly how kids their age are. Again, Trevor does a great job.
Plotwise the book continued to amaze me. Some scenes in this book had me at the edge of my seat. Trevor sure knows how to get you scared. The plot has many twists and turns and I really don't want to give anything away.
An excellent read. 9.5/10
Five out of Five by Jamas Enright 22/3/05
His last book (Fear of the Dark) took horror to an extreme length, with a base under attack type scenario. But in The Deadstone Memorial, Trevor Baxendale gets more personal with an Exorcist situation involving a mother, her daughter, and her very possessed son. The more personal story is the better one, of course.
The story rocks along with very short chapters. No sooner are we introduced to the son than we are introduced to his nightmares. And no sooner are we introduced to those, than we are introduced to the Doctor, who, in his own kind-hearted way, proceeds to make things worse. Which is to say that things would have gotten worse anyway, but this is Doctor Who, and the Doctor never finds the quiet adventures. (But, no, it really is The Exorcist, even Hazel points this out. There are aliens and psychic manipulation because this is Doctor Who, but the real influence is right there for anyone to see.)
But as I said, this is a personal story, and it is the story of Cal (the boy), and the lengths his mother goes to, as any mother would. The Doctor, Fitz and Trix are there to deal with the fantastical elements, but it is the more emotional side that appeals in this story, and Trevor Baxendale deals it out well. The horror of a child in distress is the real terror here, and the reader feels for those involved. The wider horror of the Deadstone memorial and its secret is there, but this is very much a second place horror.
The Eighth Doctor still doesn't seem to have any kind of personality, not even Trevor Baxendale can help here. Trix and Fitz are there as well, but again the focus isn't on them in this book, and they work better for that. (Although I do have to ask: what is up with Trix's last name? Where did MacAllister come from? (It used to be MacMillian.) Is this another 'Dorothy Gale' deal?)
The main characters are Hazel, Jade and Cal, and they are well realised. It's easy to get into their lives as we probably all know families like these. We feel for them, and are very much interested to keep turning the page to see what happens next.
There are also a number of other characters, but they're mainly there to help fill out the story, provide essential exposition, and help tidy up plot threads. This isn't to say that they are completely ignorable (hey, one of them is the main bad guy after all), but the real drama is around the family and their problems.
Long time readers of my reviews (insert your own joke here) know that I am a big fan of Trevor Baxendale and am constantly praising his books (except Coldheart, that just wasn't any good), but this book is really a cracking read. But don't just take my word for it, pick it up and give it a go yourself, you won't be disappointed.
A Review by Finn Clark 18/4/05
A Trevor Baxendale 8DA starring the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix. The world hates me. Those who've read my other reviews are probably waiting for me to paint myself blue and dance naked around The Deadstone Memorial with spears, but in fact I was pleasantly surprised. Eventually disappointed, but still pleasantly surprised.
Most importantly, Baxendale has been reading his reviews. At last he appears to be trying to write a novel, as opposed to a Frankenstein's monster stitched together from third-rate Pertwee runarounds. It degenerates after a while, but it starts excellently. This isn't a story of rebels and alien invaders, but instead an ordinary dysfunctional family in the real world. I liked them! The early quiet chapters kept me reading happily. As usual with this author, The Deadstone Memorial is trying to be a horror novel and on that level for a while it's actually not terrible. It's vaguely reminiscent of The Exorcist or The Shining. I certainly preferred it to The Taint, another 8DA which trod similar ground.
Unfortunately the regulars soon arrive. In fairness they begin well. The Doctor turns up solo (which is the best way to handle Fitz and Trix) and looks like a loon in all the best ways. Unfortunately his companions soon join him, but even they work well as mysterious and slightly sinister strangers in the wood. Baxendale's having fun. Alas the good work is all undone when we get a flashback scene set in the TARDIS console room... everything from then on feels a bit corny and over-familiar. This doesn't kill the book's atmosphere outright, but it punctures it. The tension keeps dribbling away like air from an elderly balloon, until what started as a strong book becomes a bit boring.
Fear of the Dark was a weaker book than this, but it was better served by its regulars. Not only do the 5th Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan piss all over the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix (yes, I'm afraid so), but Baxendale used them more interestingly and made them fit in much better with the story around them.
The regulars aren't the book's only problem, though. Baxendale doesn't know when to stop. Somewhere along the line a promising book degenerates into a runaround. At first I thought it was great. Then I thought it was okay. Then the last fifty pages just bored me. There's a good book in here and it's not even buried far below the surface, but it needs to lose a good hundred pages. Throw out all the crap from the later chapters. Cut out all the lazy Doctor Who shorthand, delete the redundant chapters and trim the fat. The ending is particularly lame, with an uninspiring villain and crap technobabble in a book that really, really didn't need it.
Some specific things don't work. The book tries to creep us out with rats, like the wasps in Eater of Wasps, which falls flat. There's also something odd going on with Jade... we get hints of a mysterious secret early in the book, which I personally assumed were indicating an illicit sexual relationship with her teacher. (She's fifteen, by the way.) I was wrong, but in fact those hints never led anywhere! I'm unimpressed. If you're going to write about realistic characters like these, you should expect your readers to be engaging with them more than usual and reading more between the lines. Leaving it as subtext would be fine, but at least hint at an answer to your readers' questions.
I've been harsh on this book, but I mostly enjoyed it. Not only is it my favourite Baxendale to date, but for a while I even thought it was good. The McKeown family (Hazel, Jade and Cal) are fantastic, always well worth reading about, and they really bring the book alive. If the author ever puts out a rewritten version that's missing Fitz, Trix and a good hundred pages, the resulting novel would be even better.