|ISBN#||0 563 55571 8|
|Continuity||Between Warriors of the Deep
|Synopsis: UNIT sends Mike Yates to investigate a ball of light plunging into the ocean. What he doesn't expect to find when he gets there is an old friend - with a new face.|
A Review by Finn Clark 8/6/99
I sometimes wonder if I'm the only horror fan around. Unlike most people, I rather liked The Bodysnatchers and The Face-Eater. The Taint was a less successful attempt to swipe some of the toys in horror's playpen, but for the most part I have considerable sympathy with attempts on the part of authors to drag Doctor Who into this much maligned genre.
Many of the televised stories dabbled in horror with great success, as seen particularly in Seasons 5 and 13-15. Why then has horror in the novels been regarded with such reservation?
Virgin certainly didn't encourage it. The only Doctor Who horror novel they put out was Nightshade, though Managra, Killing Ground and Theatre of War came close in their own different ways. Even a book with vampires or zombies generally ended up as straightforward SF action-adventure. Those controversial swipes of Lovecraftian Mythos elements were just annoying playfulness, not a serious attempt to use the genre's potential.
With the BBC, however, the horror books have come thick and fast. We've had the above-mentioned The Bodysnatchers and The Face-Eater, not to mention substantial horror elements in The Taint, Vanderdeken's Children and Kursaal. (Amusingly, the latter claims to be a werewolf novel but strikes me as just another vampire novel underneath. Doctor Who's best werewolves to date haven't been explicitly named as such - see Planet of Evil and Inferno.)
Now we have Mark Morris's Deep Blue. In my opinion, this book is excellently written. Many people won't like it.
Firstly, its scene-setting is superb. I've often griped that the BBC books haven't given me enough description to feel confident of being able to visualise more than a blank whiteness, but that certainly isn't the case here. Mark Morris's description is luscious, but never obtrusive. It doesn't slow down the action, but just look at the following line. "The sun was tearing itself from the water, leaving blood on the ocean." How many Who authors even try anything on that level? Vivid, non-literal and yet helping to set the mood; this is just class.
The characterisation is excellent too. The regulars are spot-on, which might come as a relief to those who weren't too impressed by Mark's eighth Doctor in The Bodysnatchers. The UNIT era is evoked so effortlessly that one's tempted to put it between The Green Death and The Time Warrior instead of the Season 21 slot it's been allocated on the back cover.
For me, this had real charm. For once we have a Doctor Who book that feels like a real novel. Nothing is "pretty good for Who" or "better than the last five 8DAs at least". Death and grief are real; a seaside community is vividly evoked. This is a book which knows what it's trying to do and bloody well does it.
The only problem is the story.
Once upon a time Doctor Who books were said to be "too broad and deep for the small screen". This is no longer the case. Deep Blue is a story in four episodes, perfect for TV. Perhaps it might have stretched the budget or the time slot a little, but nothing there couldn't have fitted into the Pertwee or Davison eras from which it supposedly comes. It's paced like a TV story. It's got the right amount of plot for a TV story. Thus it reads like a Target novelisation - a bloody good Target novelisation, with more depth and class than a dozen Terrance Dicks pamphlets combined, but still a novelisation. That's the extent of its ambition.
Thus we come back to where we started. What's the problem with horror in Doctor Who books? To an audience accustomed to pacy SF action, it might seem slow and simplistic. It's more interested in atmosphere than plot, though that's not necessarily a given. I still hope to see a convoluted, brain- bending horror book coming out under the Doctor Who banner some day.
For what it's worth, I think there's consumer resistance to any genre experimentation. Perhaps the ultimate rejejction of Who-as-SF came with The Scarlet Empress, which many readers found almost impossible to stomach. (Others - myself included - adored it.)
Underneath, Deep Blue is a very simple story. However it's being told by someone whom I've now decided is one of the most polished, professional authors we've got currently working for the Who books.
A Review by Henry Potts 8/7/99
Trad without being derivative, Deep Blue is a step-up from The Bodysnatchers, which was frankly risible in places. Morris is an experienced horror writer and I found this is a well enough constructed tale, albeit reliant on a trite deus ex machina at the end. It's an enjoyable read, gripping in places, but rapidly vanishing from one's memory.
As with so much of the BBC's output, Deep Blue is very televisual in style. It reads like a novelisation, as a basic adventure story with bits of deeper characterisation grafted onto the front. The story is too short for a novel, but Morris is a good enough technician to keep the pages interesting until the plot comes around. It's a shame that his opening chapters show so much depth when he swims on to paddle in the shallows of monster runaround. 6/10
"That's Some Bad Hat, Harry." by Jason A. Miller 26/9/99
Deep Blue opens on a fishing boat. Lots of British fisherman stereotypes abound -- the grizzled Robert Shaw caricature, the eager young lad, all equally doomed. Suffice to say that if you're featured in a Doctor Who story before the Doctor's first appearance, your life span is going to be minimal.
That's the horror stereotype, anyway, and horror writer Mark Morris makes it work for a lot longer than anyone had a right to expect -- this is, recall, the man who wrote the fully unmemorable The Bodysnatchers a couple of years ago. This second book gets off to a stronger start, since it plays off the memories of "Jaws", in which limbs are also lost horrifically in the opening moment. It's also set during Season 21, a great year for Doctor Who horror, and the first two parts of this four-part story are quite interesting and gruesome.
But then Deep Blue proceeds to go wrong in so many places, it takes more fingers to list then than are lost in the book's first 5 pages.
Doctor Who on TV routinely introduced a supporting cast which would be virtually annihilated before the closing moments of Part Three, leaving only our regulars to carry the finale. That was fine on TV. For whatever reason, it doesn't work in print -- perhaps because the regulars, deprived of their on-screen voices, don't come across as strongly. Even though it's set in a seaside resort, this story's Part Four is so devoid of named cast that there almost seems to be nothing at stake. (There are intimations that all of England are at risk, but just that, nothing more.)
And those supporting cast members who died early on television always exited at the appropriate time. Their personal story arc was complete, or perhaps they left behind some story thread to be resolved and fulfilled by the TARDIS crew. In Deep Blue, the supporting characters are given marvelous, thoughtful lives -- and after their exits, nothing, not even a reference to their names. In most cases, the regulars never get to meet these characters. You spend a hundred and fifty pages rooting for people whose existence you'd never guess at by reading Part Four alone. In fact, that last part introduces a new set of patsies who die in gouts of blood. It's usually not wise to leave the reader in such a state of dissatisfaction.
At least Deep Blue gets the continuity touches right. There are small roles for our men from UNIT, and a larger one for Captain Mike Yates -- the Earthmen existing in between Seasons 10 and 11, meeting the Davison Doctor for the first time. They're all done well. There's been a power struggle between rival authors in the past as to Captain Yates' sexual orientation; here, we learn again that he's "sensitive" but nothing else. He's heroic, adding resonance to his fall from grace and renewal in Season 11 (Doctor Who's first-ever sustained character arc).
Tegan, Turlough, and the Doctor are all spot-on for Season 21, those violent times in which Tegan lost her innocence and the Fifth Doctor lost everything. Deep Blue is thus a rarity in that bits of it actually can be slotted seamlessly into its purported TV season. Apart from the standard anachronisms, i.e.Tegan recognizing a laptop computer, anway. This Tegan is shrill and argumentative, but face it, after years and years of Sam, Benny, and Roz, this is no longer irksome. Turlough does what he'd do on TV -- manage to make running away look heroic.
Basically we have a story that thinks it's The Ark in Space, but has one of the lamest resolutions to a novel this decade (Mind over matter??). It has flashes of thinking it's "Jaws", a seminal deep-sea horror story, but what's missing are Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, and finally, any real alien menace. Maybe Chief Brody should have told the shark to go home; that's all that's here. If Mark Morris wants to write DW horror again, he's going to need a bigger boat.
Avoid, avoid, avoid by Robert Smith? 12/10/99
You know, if I ever need something mind-meltingly boring described in perfect detail, Mark Morris is the man for the job. It usually takes me about a week or so to get through the average Doctor Who book. It took me an entire month to wade through this muck. I'm not really sure why I bothered, except that I thought that nothing this bad could have been published, so it simply had to get better later. Well, I was wrong and I paid the price for that mistake.
I have no idea why this involves the fifth Doctor and company. I can't see anything that would have prevented the use of the Third Doctor and Jo. It's not as though the two companions make much difference - Turlough seems to spend the entire book clinging to the Doctor's skirts in fear.
Okay, yes, Turlough was cowardly. But it was a controlled sort of cowardice, where he'd just rather not risk his life, not because he was the reincarnation of Victoria Waterfield. Here he's a quivering wreck, constantly terrified of everything and anything. He physically attaches himself to the Doctor like a mortified schoolgirl, alternately grabbing the Doctor's arm and various items of his clothing everytime there's a loud noise. I fully expected him to physically leap into the Doctor's arms.
The only time I thought this worked at all was when he had to make the jump across the roof. There, at least, we saw why he was scared, but also how he overcame it. But after the rest of the novel, you'd have thought he'd belonged in an institution for the terminally terrified.
The continuity has to be seen to be believed. Okay, I've suffered the excesses of Russell and McIntee. I've read the footnotes in The Nth Doctor. But this is taking it to new depths. Every few pages what little action there is stops so that we can get yet another little snippet of continuity -- that has absolutely no relevance to anything whatsoever. Bloody hell is that painful. I've never, ever figured out what the point of superfluous continuity references is. Are they supposed to induce a warm fanboyish glow in the heart of the readers so that even though your book has no imagination, wit, originality or flair, they might still be fooled into thinking they're reading Doctor Who?
The alien threat is vaguely horrific, although conveying the menace by the continual losing of fingers and limbs seems incredibly cliched by now. We get a sense of the viciousness, but not the horror. And after a while, it just seems so tiring to read about, with pages and pages of the same old thing happening to new collections of faceless people.
The resolution also seemed to be rather lacklustre and pointless. The Doctor just sort of tells everyone to go home and they do. Ho hum.
In short, Deep Sleep has little of value. Some nice descriptive bits and a little characterisation for Mike Yates, but that's about all. The rest is pointless, forgettable and old hat. I can't believe I suffered through this. Run away.
The Same Old Kind of Blue by Marcus Salisbury 3/12/02
The idea that good storytelling involves re-telling an old idea well is not exactly new. The classics of western literature are littered with such texts... Virgil's "Aeneid", for instance, Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", Ovid's "Metamorphoses", and almost the entire plays of Shakespeare are grand recycling bins of old archetypes, scenarios, and conclusions. More recently, Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" reassembled a vast array of Norse and Celtic mythology into a unified whole (and the rip-offs keep coming). Then again, for every "Morte d'Arthur", there are 50 versions of "Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell": flat, imitative works that slavishly reassemble stock incidents and characters to little real effect. Doctor Who is no exception to this. The accepted "canon" of Who classics incorporates a good deal of shameless intertextuality, which is used to startlingly new effect. I'm sure we can all rattle off a half-dozen examples of this without thinking too hard, from the TV series, the Virgin NAs, the 8DAs, and so on. It seems to me that an inherent problem in the PDA series is the piling of intertextuality on top of intertextuality, context on continuity, in a process which ultimately makes many PDAs seem flat and predictable simply because it's all been done before. Every outcome has been mapped out by the forces of staid convention, and every book in the range risks being More of the Same.
Deep Blue is a representative example of this process. On the face of it, it's a well-crafted novel that gets you in and makes you want to keep reading it, finish it, and put it back down. Period. It doesn't live on in your imagination by a cruel reinforcement of ongoing existential angst, as Interference for example did for me, or provide a deepening/darkening of a well-loved era of the show's history, which is surely one of the most positive features of the best PDAs.
Deep Blue is fast food for the frontal lobe, and nothing more. On a deeper level, it's disappointing, as many PDAs are. Mark Morris has more or less rehashed key elements and influences of his earlier 8DA The Bodysnatchers, transplanted them to the Fifth Doctor's era, and let the story run on autopilot. The Bodysnatchers itself drew heavily on Terror of the Zygons and the whole genre of the "body horror" story, with its emphasis on dehumanising transformations, unpleasant physical changes, and so on. Deep Blue is a body horror tale with a vengeance... but it all somehow seems to fall a bit flat.
The plot is straight out of the let's-make-a-Doctor-Who-story guidebook. Something nasty and aquatic takes people over, turns them into monsters via the usual growing spikes on your face/bursting open/vomiting mucus everywhere rite of passage, runs riot in an orgy of death and destruction, and almost conquers the world (England, anyway) but for the actions of the Doctor and his allies. There, simple. It could be the plot of Deep Blue, or Fury From the Deep, or Ark in Space (OK, so the Wirrn aren't amphibious, they're big hornets), Terror of the Zygons, or The Curse of Fenric, or The Bodysnatchers.
Or whatever. The already overladen point I'm making here is that, somehow, while Deep Blue isn't the type of book you hurl across the room in sheer frustration, it's disappointing on a different level. The characters are kind-of believable, and kind-of likeable, and several meet grisly and in-your-face fates (such as the nice young policeman befriended by Tegan, and any number of innocent bystanders). The baddies, the Xaranti, are kind of like the Borg with crabs. The Xaranti "hive", led by its "queen" is driven by a need to "assimilate" new cultures and incorporate their biological and technological diversity to its own. I've heard that before somewhere. The scenes of Xaranti-induced urban desolation are vividly drawn in a "Duke Nukem" kind of way, as are the Xaranti hybrids themselves. They're kind-of spiders/bulls/crustaceans/humans, and the unpleasant details of the transformation process are not spared. The Xaranti "queen" is one of the most disappointing characters in the book, however. The obvious thing would have been for Morris to have written an "Aliens" type of "big mean bitch" queen, but the evil genius behind the Xaranti is merely a bulky blob of snot with multifarious faces a la Lawrence Miles's Cold. (More precisely, a la what happens when one gets a cold). The Xaranti are also old enemies of the Zygons, and fly around in a Morok ship. This is taking continuity to an unreasonably silly level. (Why the Moroks? Is it because they got the First Doctor to pose in a bathing suit?)
The Fifth Doctor is plausible, but bland. Then again, this is also true to life... the potential inherent in this character (and the skills of the actor playing him) went a little to waste under the hi-gloss, assembly-line style that characterised the series during the early '80s. The only writer to really attempt to define and deepen the Fifth Doctor was Christopher H. Bidmead (go and watch Castrovalva and Frontios and you'll see what I mean), and he was effectively removed from the game as of the beginning of Season 19. So the Fifth Doctor's being a mannered, over-stylised study in beige is no surprise: it's the way things were. Ditto for the big-mouthed Tegan and shifty Turlough, both of whom are given little to do. The Second Doctor is reputedly the most difficult to capture in print, but at least writers have something to work with. Morris deserves full marks for at least trying to write the Fifth Doctor... there isn't really much you can hang on the character once you get past the cricket outfit and celery stuff, unfortunately. A similar point could be made about the latest incarnation also, but I digress...
Morris deploys Mike Yates very well here. While his inclusion might seem a little incongruous, he gets to carry the bulk of the action. This character's hidden depths were conveyed well by Richard Franklin in the TV series, and it's good to see this disappointingly under-used getting an airing in a PDA. The usual UNIT suspects all get to poke their heads in, if only to satisfy the continuity Nazis (who are also supplicated, by the way, with a glib eleventh-hour explanation to the obvious question of "why didn't the Brigadier recognise the Fifth Doctor in Mawdryn Undead).
A big plus is the novel's setting. Morris recreates the Wall's ice cream-and striped deckchairs world of the 1970s UK "pleasure beach" with skilful attention to detail. Points also go to the novel's incorporation of TV commercials and various other pop-culture elements... let's not forget that Who itself is intertwined, to a noticeable section of its audience, with the world of '70s telly in the UK.
Overall, however, Deep Blue is not one of my favourite PDAs. Maybe it's the generally hackneyed plot elements; maybe it's the torpid use of one of the blander periods in the show's history, or the under-use of the UNIT side of things. Too much continuity and too many conventional elements are brought into play, and the end result seems a little stale.
A Review by Brian May 11/6/04
The first thing I noticed about Deep Blue was that it's written with a fast, engaging pace, never getting too bogged down in description or being overly wordy. When I picked up the book I read about 150 pages in one sitting, all the scenes flying past.
Mark Morris shows a reasonable understanding of the regular characters. The Doctor remains a faithful rendition of Peter Davison's portrayal, down to the possession scenes in the fourth part of the book, which you can imagine the televised fifth incarnation projecting well. Tegan is given a romantic interest, but it's thankfully done sensitively, depicting her as a lonely person, looking for love and normalcy but not desperately craving it. Her anguish and anger at Andy's death are excellent moments. She gives normal reactions of someone in shock, a far cry from the whingeing and complaining Tegan of TV.
Turlough presents a bit of a problem, however. At first glance, he comes across as a fairly representative depiction of the on-screen version, but his cowardice is taken way too far. True, he was liable to take the easy way out and save his own skin (Warriors of the Deep), but in that same story he also had a conscience and was capable of brave acts (Enlightenment and Frontios are other cases in point). Here he comes across as a proper cowardly cutlet ("like a small child hanging on to its mother's skirts") and in many ways is a caricature. However he has some interestingly told moments - his flight from the hotel room, his leap across the roofs and attempts to evade the Xaranti are genuinely gripping moments (which are spoiled by the constant reminders of what a coward he is).
The UNIT team, especially the Brigadier and Mike, are well realised. The Brigadier's intelligence and vulnerability are highlighted here - his breakdown into tears close to the end is another sensitive moment that doesn't do him injustice. Mike Yates is a great example of a fairly plastic television character given an almost exponentially greater scope in book form (although The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs - from his point of view, where this story falls between - are the adventures that saw him given some genuine depth and character, and the Mike Yates here could be indicative of the televised trend). The focus on him for much of this story is great - he's the most sympathetic character, effectively the story's "hero".
These characterisations are one of Deep Blue's greatest strengths. The fifth Doctor team and the UNIT regulars for the most part coming across well for their joint adventure.
BUT - and this is a big but - why are they brought together at all? It seems extremely forced and, at the end of the day, is no more than a piece of shameless continuity obsession. At the whim of the author, regulars of various Doctor Who eras are teamed up (Blood Heat, No Future, The Face of the Enemy, The Wages of Sin, Bullet Time among others). In the majority of cases, they simply don't work, and Deep Blue is no exception. It's just of those overindulgent "what-if?" scenarios. At the end, Morris has to contrive a way to make the UNIT crew forget the encounter, so as not to cause a continuity nightmare (cf. Mawdryn Undead). At the rushed conclusion, they conveniently lose their memories, with the exception of Mike, who presumably takes his recollections with him into his last two televised adventures. The Doctor's line on p.60, "Is it really necessary to involve UNIT at all?" gains an unintended irony.
Speaking of continuity, there's a checklist of Who monsters. I have no problem with reasonable references and/or appearances of old monsters in new fiction (e.g. Ice Warriors in Transit, Draconians in Love and War or Original Sin). But here there's just a recitation of aliens that is more showing off - the Zygons, who have allegedly been at war with the Xaranti for ages (a most feeble rip-off of a Sontaran/Rutan scenario), the Cybermen, the Wirrn, the Kraals, and of course, there's the Morok battle cruiser. (And in my humble opinion these dolts from The Space Museum were one of most pathetically realised and portrayed alien races ever - sorry, this time I can't suspend my disbelief and believe they^?e capable of anything so advanced!) And, to top it all of, the author wheels out the Pertwee-era IRIS machine and attempts an in-joke with a UNIT soldier called Manning, just to show us how clever he is!
However the Xaranti themselves are quite an interesting creation; their gestalt like existence is quite fascinating, and the monsters themselves are memorably creepy - this is partly due to the excellent illustration on the back of the book (in fact, all the cover artwork is outstanding, with a wonderful use of colour and shading). They're very gruesome, but that just helps to serve what is basically a monster-based horror story.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the adventure is well paced and the style of writing is of a high standard. And, as a horror tale, it's a great read, with obvious nods to the genre what with elements such as the sideshow location. The opening, with the grisly demise of a group of incidental characters is very much Doctor Who. Other such individuals turn up for a few paragraphs, just to meet a similar fate. There's a real sense of urgency and hopelessness as the monsters attack, and the constant transformations into Xaranti hybrids is a wonderful homage to zombie films. Supporting characters such as Charlotte and Andy are well used, the situation of Charlotte''s dysfunctional family makes her sympathetic and endearing (and three-dimensional as well). The structure of the story is good, divided into four episodes in book form rather than conventional chapters, each with great cliffhanger endings. However, it's very violent and gory, with lots of unpleasant detail, and the conclusion is extremely rushed and unsatisfying.
A well written, enjoyable tale. A good pulpy horror story, but not without serious problems in its uses of characters and continuity. 6.5/10
Seaside Horror by Joe Ford 11/12/06
There is a lot that is right about Deep Blue and much that is wrong too. I clearly enjoyed it much more than some others on this website but there was still room for improvement.
What I really appreciated was the quality of the prose which was of an exceptional level throughout and I really could imagine Mark Morris breaking out into the best-selling horror market with no great difficulty. What people seem to forget with these Doctor Who books is that don't only have to get the Doctor and his companions right, you don't have to just get the plotting and characterisation right, you have to be a good writer too. Many a deluded Doctor Who fan has put pen to paper wanting to create the same sort of stories that thrilled some much as a child but hasn't had the ability. To his credit, Mark Morris can set a scene beautifully, he can write action with energy and horror and he conveys the shock of the situation well through his characters.
I was thrilled by the violent content, which for once never felt gratuitous because it was so central to the plot. A man's fingers get reduced to bloody stumps; the urge to kill is described as an orgasmic pleasure; a woman watches her husband get disembowelled before she is sliced open herself; and Mike shoots Tegan's boyfriend before he transforms into a Xaranti. This healthy gore really fires square in the chest and brews up an atmosphere of terror. The primary horror of becoming one of these creatures - even the Doctor and Tegan succumb to this nightmare - is really horrifying and it is unfortunate the copout ending (the transformation is psychological rather than physical) threatens to dismiss the excellent psychological repulsion the author has painstakingly created.
What shocked me most about Deep Blue was how much I found myself liking Tegan. And here's the key folks, this is how Mark Morris got it so right where pretty much every writer on the television got it wrong. Tegan is portrayed as bossy and unreasonable as she is on the television but we also get to see a softer side to her nature and with access to her thoughts it is nice to have some motivation behind her attitude problem. She is a real person and not a cipher to power the plot. Watching Tegan enjoy a drink, get chatted up, get drunk... it makes her feel so normal. Seeing her wrestle with such a powerful internal dilemma, part of her craving normal human interaction and part of her telling her to grab the once-in-a-lifetime experience of life aboard the TARDIS, is the sort of development she was denied on the box. She knows there is no future in her relationship with Andy but likes him and enjoys her time with him all the same and these moments that see her relaxing and flirting help to create a far more rounded character.
Alternatively Turlough is treated with contempt by the author, as though he really didn't have too much to contribute to the plot. Turlough is described less than positively (can you guess by whom?) as devious, underhanded, duplicitous, smarmy and a coward. Being nice doesn't suit him apparently; every time he tried, he ended up sounding oily and insincere. The book highlights his cowardess far too much though; on the box Mark Strickston played Turlough as a coward with a heart but I got no sense that he was honourable here, just that he wanted out of harm's way at all times. He is described as having wriggled into the TARDIS like a maggot into an apple core. One sequence towards the end features Turlough on the run and is a fabulous stroll around a monster-infested seaside town. For once you get a real feeling that the companion is in deadly danger, despite the fact that The Awakening is just around the corner.
There a few fabulous Doctor moments for the fifth incarnation but not enough to really drive home that this deserved to be set in season 21. Deep Blue reads like it belongs to Jon Pertwee's Doctor, such is the action content and fighting monsters in such a domestic setting. However it is worth visiting the fifth Doctor here to see the brief glimpses into his mind, discovering how many tragedies he has witnessed, described as "pottering around the TARDIS like a an old man in a garden shed", treating Tegan like a child because she behaves like one. I loved the scene where he confronted the Xaranti Queen, a total Doctor Who cliche, but effective because it is the sort of Troughtonesque moment Davison was denied in his three pacifist years. Defeating the Xaranti so easily might belittle the monsters but there is something so cool about the Doctor facing the enemy with nothing more than a flask of water and strength of mind.
The UNIT involvement is always welcome and beautifully integrated in the story with Mike Yates, the Brigadier and Benton all well characterised but I have to reiterate what others have stated: why? Once again, it reminds us that this really should be a third Doctor story and the mixture of season ten and season 21 is extremely unconventional and (almost) uncomfortable, simply because they were powered by very different moral themes. The Brigadier goes through the similar torture of the Doctor in season 21, impotent against the horrors the universe throws at him and the Doctor takes on the third Doctor's role of arrogantly stepping ahead of everyone else and saving the day without apology or explanation.
I suppose it is a good chance to get inside Mike Yates head in the wake of the events of The Green Death, but considering he was hardly Doctor Who's strongest character I question whether this was really necessary either. Mike is a good soldier, brave and loyal, dependable and efficient and cool under pressure - but also sensitive and sensible, far -thinking but impressionable too. He believes in peace but how can you keep peace with guns, tanks and bombs? It is really eye-opening when you realise that Mike feels like a dull, plodding police constable next to the Doctor.
The Xaranti are far more interesting than most reviews will ever let you believe and they are described in lavish, graphic detail. I love the idea of intergalactic parasites with no technological or cultural identity of their own, hijacking ships and scavenging and infecting the people with a disease so aggressive it causes them to mutate and absorbing the species and their knowledge. They are in a constant war with the Zygons, a nice link with Morris's previous Bodysnatchers. There is a Borg vibe too: they create a giant controlling kind (their Queen) which controls their actions and assimilates all the collected knowledge of the species they have absorbed. If only there wasn't that awful ending that twists them from being such delicious body horror to being creates that hide behind psychology.
It feels as though the books wants to push boundaries, giving Tegan a life, pushing the body count, driving the Brigadier close to insanity (actually that is three things the Davison era did attempt, albeit without this level of success) but then tethers it to a really traditional, strict plot that mirrors the pace of season 21 beat for beat. It is even split into four parts. In later stages it jettisons all of its effective character work from earlier on in the story in favour of bigger set pieces, again faithful to its era. I wanted the book to explode from its episodic restraints and tell the story it deserved to be, rather than the story it had to end up being, whilst chained to such a restrictive formula.
Deep Blue is not the failure that some would make it out to be, but then it is not the great success others would pitch either. It falls into some middle ground that swallows up at least 40% of the PDAs. Entertaining, gruesome, traditional and ultimately disappointing, Deep Blue deserves to be read on a windy night under the duvet and then put back on the shelf and forgotten about.
A Review by Steve White 18/3/15
Fifth Doctor PDAs are usually fairly dull, mainly due to Peter Davison's mild-mannered version of the Doctor. In order for the novel to be any good, it needs to have an interesting or powerful story to drive it (The Ultimate Treasure), otherwise it becomes boring (Zeta Major). As the author of Deep Blue, Mark Morris, gave us the brilliance that was The Bodysnatchers and I was hopeful for a decent story; I sort of got it.
The plot of Deep Blue revolves around an alien race landing in the sea and contaminating animals and human to spawn more of their race. People's bodies erupt when the alien emerges, and the resulting aliens like ripping limbs off and killing in brutal ways. It is safe to say that Deep Blue is a horror story, which isn't to everyone's taste, myself included usually. As the story goes on, it transpires that the vast majority of the humans in the book are slowly turning into the aliens, which is a nice touch, especially when you see the struggle to stay in control. Sadly, the plot does stall a little at around the halfway mark, and it becomes a zombie novel, with the cast running away through deserted streets. I thought the ending was actually really well done. Yes it is all wrapped up a little too cleanly, but the big reveal as to the contaminations source was a good concept.
As previously mentioned, the 5th Doctor is just dull in whatever guise he appears. That said, Mark Morris does a good job of recreating his TV persona, but he didn't really have much to recreate. Companionwise, we have the mouthy Tegan and the slimy Turlough, as well as Mike Yates from UNIT.
Mike Yates actually starts off as a fairly decent companion for once. However, once the rest of UNIT shows up, he fades into obscurity as usual. Just once, I'd like to have seen Mike Yates work with the Doctor without the Brig and UNIT. Talking of which, I struggled to understand why UNIT were even needed, their inclusion serving only to confuse continuity with Mawdryn Undead. Thankfully the majority of UNIT have their memories wiped, phew.
Tegan actually gets a bit of decent character building too, her date and subsequent "romance" with Andy is nicely done and shows a different side to her "brash Aussie" image. Turlough is also done really well. Morris has the sneaky schoolboy down to a tee, with him obviously only caring about saving his own skin. He does have him a little too cowardly at times, but still utterly believable.
The Xaranti, however, are a joke alien race. They are a scorpion crossed with a bull, which is bordering on Paul Leonard's "animal" race enthusiasm, which I find tiring. They are also a group-minded race, a plot point far overused in both the PDAs and the EDAs, and a race that seems to like gory killings for no real reason. The "infection" plot point is interesting, but the aliens themselves are not, which is a shame.
Deep Blue is an interesting horror story, which is a lot better than it sounds on the cover blurb. It has some major strengths in its setting and characterization but parts of the plot and narrative do feel slow at times. It's not a must-read by any stretch, but it's entertaining nonetheless.