|ISBN||0 563 55572 6|
|Synopsis: Raconteur and high player "Kreiner, Fitz Kreiner", finds himself gambling away all his money on Vega Station. Giant bears watch Opera and Sam finds herself with a new appreciation for art.|
A Review by Finn Clark 20/3/99
Well, well, well. Another Justin Richards novel. By now you'd think we knew what to expect. He doesn't play around like Steve Lyons or Dangermouse, but simply works to his usual formula of convoluted plot and no noticeable attempts to win a Nobel Prize for characterisation. The difference this time around is that he's trying to be funny.
Demontage is vaguely amusing, light flippant froth. The problem is that comedy generally comes from the interplay of character, which isn't Richards's strong point, but nevertheless he ploughs on gamely. To a fair extent, he even succeeds. He doesn't have the instinctive light touch of Gareth Roberts or Dave Stone, but he keeps things bubbling along frivolously enough without any danger of veering into angst or melodrama. The setting and characters help to stop us taking things seriously.
This in fact is my main problem with this book. I applaud Justin Richards for wanting to try something new, but the result doesn't really come out as much of anything. It's amusing, but it's not funny. It's diverting, but it's not gripping. The best aspect of his other BBC books, Option Lock and Dreams of Empire, was the way they both excelled at ratcheting up the tension with heart-stopping danger and amazing plot twists. That's been deliberately sacrificed here, but there isn't anything nearly as strong in their place. Also one of the plot twists is extremely guessable since we've seen it before (though I won't say where).
Oh, and three characters are named Savilich, Stabilo and Solarin. This is a mistake, as is the horrid cover.
What is specifically good about this book? The regulars work well together. Sam is a little generic, but at least that's better than being annoying. Thankfully there are no environmental activists around to bring out her worst tendencies. Fitz is good, albeit a bit of a twat at times, and his interaction with Sam is genuinely funny.
Also the monsters are good. Justin's handling of their big secret and its ramifications is audacious and confident, showing an author who's not afraid to play around with his work. There's nothing really wrong with this book. It's not bad. It's just a bit "so what?" Easy to read and easy to put down, this is a pleasantly undemanding contribution to the 8DAs.
A Review by Dr. Terry Evil 4/4/99
What the heck is going on with BBC Books? Has someone doctored their water? Are they being leant on by a gang land overlord? Has Steve Cole managed to offend an Egyptian God? There must be some reason why their latest books have been so poor.
Justin Richards started at Virgin, where he produced a marvellous debut novel. Recently, his output has gone off the scale, with two Benny books and two BBC books in the last two years. This Enid Blyton-like workrate is finally starting to tell, with his latest book being so depressingly awful I could barely finish it.
But finish it I did. Demontage is one of those books that practically defies you to enjoy it; it?s got so much going against it that even if it came with a free fish supper and night out with Kelly Brook, you?d still have to give it careful thought before taking it on. How did Richards pull off the remarkable feat of writing a truly awful book? For a start, it harks back -- and you?ll just have to believe me on this -- to Terrance Dicks?s innumerable Target novelisations. Scenes last no more than a couple of pages, constantly shifting between myriad characters so that not only is the world being describing not hanging around long enough for the reader to get involved in it, you also have to constantly turn back a few pages trying to work out where things were up to in a given plot-line. On TV, this effect works great -- in books, where the reader has to concentrate more and is unlikely to finish it in one sitting, it grates on the mind to wonderful effect.
But this is just the start. Richards? usual style relies a lot on sudden shocking revelations. His characters are therefore usually just conduits for a trade-marked volte face later on. While these surprises can often be rather wonderful, it does tend to mean that most of his characters are deliberately made of pure cardboard for pretty much most of the book. In Demontage, the first of Richards?s revelations doesn?t happen till about page 205. Now, those of you of a mathematical persuasion will be able to work out that that?s about 200 pages of boring run-around populated with characters who may not be ?what they seem?, but are still as interesting as Michael Fish until we find out what they do seem. To top all this, in Demontage most of the revelations are depressingly predictable and those that aren?t are rendered dull by the fact that it says ?Justin Richards? on the cover and he tends to do that sort of thing.
That's a lot of negative wordage before we even get to the fact that such a blatantly interesting character as Fitz is here presented as nothing more than a conduit for what the author is thinking at the time, something I confidently predict will happen in virtually every book featuring him from now on.
After Demontage and the sheer pain I went through trying to finish it, I?m seriously thinking of giving up on the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures. I would like to think it was just a blip on the chart, but after the thoroughly coma-inducing likes of The Face Eater, The Taint and The Janus Conjunction (three of the four previous EDAs), I would rather save my money and my brain cogency for other purchases. For all the protestations of BBC authors, a change is now long overdue. Let's hope it has already happened and wonderfulness is just around the corner.
A Letter to Justin Richards by Robert Smith? 7/7/99
"Dear Mr Richards,
"I just wanted to congratulate you on your latest book this week (bringing the total up to three, but I expect you'll have beaten that by Friday). I have to say, I found your latest opus quite good. Not brilliant, but not awful either.
"Don't get me wrong, Demontage isn't bad by any means. And I'm grateful, really I am. It's been a long time since I've finished an EDA, put it down and said to myself 'Self,' I said, 'That wasn't bad. No complaints'.
"Sadly, it's going to be a little longer before I am able to have that conversation with myself. Because I do have one complaint, which you may think is minor, but it's one that had a detrimental effect on me nonetheless.
"In short, your book was far too predictable. Yes, I know how much that must hurt, especially when you've built a career around clever surprises, but there you have it. You don't believe me? Allow me to elaborate.
"In my review of The Taint, I referred to a (supposedly) fictional form in Steve Cole's office that he hands out to authors to produce join-the-dots EDAs. While I don't wish to suggest that you get your ideas for writing more books in a week than I can read from sources other than your own highly vivid imagination, may I point out that you've written an EDA in exactly the house style. Let me tick off some of the points I made concerning The Taint in particular, but the EDAs at the moment in general (points I made in complete ignorance of Demontage, I might add):
'The Doctor does _______ (insert silly and unbelievable thing here).'
"Check. While the Doctor's gambling is at least restrained, I'm afraid I still don't buy it for a second. Yes, it gives Fitz an excuse not to do anything, but it still doesn't ring wholly true to me. A minor niggle, it's true, but it's there all the same.
'Sam gets possessed, tortured, severely injured.'
"Check. What a stroke of luck she got stuck in the only picture with an escape route, though. I have to congratulate you on that piece of foresight, otherwise we might be spared Ms Jones' ever-amusing wisecracks, which undoubtedly made the book for one or two readers somewhere in the world. Probably Argentina.
'The Doctor runs around pointlessly for most of the book, having no real idea what's going on, before miraculously coming up with a solution in the last chapter.'
'The Doctor spends most of the story investigating something seemingly unrelated which fortunately turns out to be immensely valuable, although only after most of the cast have died.'
"Check. It sure was lucky that he spent so much time gambling in the first eighteen chapters, wasn't it? (I'm aware that there are only seventeen chapters and naturally I'm exaggerating for comic effect, though obviously I can't hope to match Ms Jones for patter, but honestly, he did seem to be wasting time at that gambling table for an awfully long time, wouldn't you agree?)
"I'm not saying that the resolution wasn't ingenious, I just think it might have worked rather better had the Doctor not spent the first quarter of the book gambling successfully, just in case we were in doubt of his Amazing Abilities [TM]. I'm fairly sure even readers new to Doctor Who fiction (heaven help them if their overriding impression of the world of Doctor Who consists of Sam Jones's furious wisecracking) would have survived the Doctor's very necessary gambling at the end without a big signpost at the beginning to help them along.
"Actually, she's fairly restrained here and I'd like to congratulate you on that. Unfortunately, I can't, because substituting the irritating whining with irritating wisecracks is no substitution at all. Fortunately, this level of irritation is only reached towards the end of the book and otherwise she's mostly tolerable. I will go ahead and thank you for that, because that's obviously something you author chappies have particular trouble with. Getting her up to 'tolerable' is clearly quite a feat and any problems I have with her overall characterisation are clearly a matter of me setting my sights too high.
"I'm afraid that sooner or later some enterprising young lawyer is going to make an awful lot of money when he realises the immense litigation opportunities to be made from the back cover. Another in the series of original adventures for the Eighth Doctor, indeed! I'm sure the clever BBC attorneys will attempt to claim that this is in fact the collective noun for just one original adventure, repeated over and over again, but I'm afraid one look at Sam Jones and any sensible jury is going for a guilty verdict straight away.
"I'm sure they won't make your sentence too long, Justin, really I am. You've undoubtedly got an honest face and your eyes aren't very close together at all. And you really did think that it wasn't such a big mistake at the time, although clearly you've learnt your lesson now. If you cry a little, you'll probably be lucky enough to share a cell with Simon Messingham and get weekly visits from Paul Magrs.
"Oh, and I know you did your best to try and change it, but I also guessed far more than I had any right to from the previous title (when I jokingly said that "Stripper!" meant this book would be all about evil paint remover I really wasn't serious). That's not your fault, of course, and even your editors tried vainly to hide the title from giving away the resolution, but I'm afraid I found even fewer surprises than usual.
"While this might not be such a problem with other books, I'm afraid that it did detract from my enjoyment of Demontage a little, due to your patented surprise-intensive style.
"However, I wish to point out that despite my minor complaints, I really did enjoy your book (no, not that one, the blue one. No, the other blue one.) It's a solid read and I think my money was well-spent. It's a well-rounded read that makes no big mistakes. True, you have no less than four characters whose names start with the letter S, but they almost manage to differentiate themselves from one another. A little bit. Well, Sam does anyway.
"I'm also extremely impressed with your treatment of Fitz. It's been a long time since I laughed with an EDA, but for once my Tears were of Joy (I'm sorry to reference two of your books from next week's output in one phrase there, it must come as quite a shock). I suspect that other authors won't stick with the Fitz-as-comedy-buffoon character, but I'd vote for it if anyone ever listened to me. At the very least, it takes that role away from the Doctor, at best it can be a sheer delight to read, making the whole book far more interesting than it would otherwise be.
"I'm still a little annoyed that after two books we haven't got a physical description of Fitz, though. Once again, that's not your fault, you were just going with the crowd and who could blame you? Unfortunately, your obvious ambition to become the next Terrance Dicks is going to require a course in snappy character descriptions (just a line or two should be fine) if it's ever going to take off.
"Okay, so Demontage seems to conform fairly well to the EDA checklist. It's not really your fault, you were only following orders, I'm sure. It's true that men have been executed for exactly that, but that was war and completely different, I'm sure. At least until the Revolution comes, but I think you can hold your head up to at least a medium level. That's because there's one big difference between your colour-by-numbers book and those of your predecessors. I think it's quite an important one. Although so many of the cliches are here, they're carried off rather more stylishly than elsewhere.
"I'd like to point out that when I say that you're an old pro, it's very much a compliment. We could use more of your type, Justin. You know that if you're going to do cliches you might as well put a little life into them.
"I want to thank you Justin. You might be flogging a dead horse, but you're doing it while dressed as James Bond and whistling Dixie. Nothing too outrageous, mind, but just enough that when judged by the standards of the other horse-floggers, you come up trumps. Bravo! The Terrance Dicks routine is really coming along there.
The Nightmare of Demons by Jason A. Miller 24/9/99
Justin Richards has always been one of the most consistent and reliable lights in Doctor Who print. This past year, he's also become the most prolific, overseeing a team of delirious elves who churn out one complex, character-led political thriller/sci-fi runaround after another. And this time, those elves have been at the hallucinogens..
While reliable and consistent are complimentary words when used to describe the Richards output, they're usually insults when spoken in the context of the Eighth Doctor Adventures as a whole. The line doesn't take enough risks; it doesn't do anything with its characters, who are ill-conceived; there's no ongoing arc to make any one book different from the last, or next. So when the duelling definitions of "consistent and reliable" clash, which one prevails?
Generally speaking, Demontage is seen as an example of the latter -- a disappointment of expectations. Which is a pity. Demontage is also two other words, words that in tandem mean Good Things for Doctor Who books: "Derivative" and "Inventive". <>Basically, Demontage is The Nightmare of Eden, that Season 17 howler. Sure, there's a little more political subplot, but this is a longer work. There are Drugs in Space, and a mad investor with a goofy accent (here, Henri Blanc, a name calling to mind the goofy accent panderings of Lewis Fiander. There are also bipedal wolves named after Italian opera stars, and more silly space names e.g. Tullus Gath than in the whole of Vanderdeken's Children). There's the invention that turns 3-dimensional humans into living 2-dimensional images, and Wacky monsters with big papier mache heads and weird sound-effects. Personal tragedy is mixed in with human comedy, and the ending is surprisingly genial.
What Demontage is, is both ridiculous, and oddly satisfying. Richards has been telling similar stories for many years -- there are elements from many of his prior novels here, including an alien race with a predilection for human theatrical form, looming nuclear disaster, and paintings that yield clever plot twists (itself summoning to mind the great Castrovalva). It's just that Demontage is played 80% for laughs, as opposed to the author's usual rate of 0%.
What Demontage doesn't do is extend the story arc further -- there was none before this book and there's none after. However, this being Fitz's first full story, it allows Sam to recede into the background (later on, quite literally), and show us real Doctor/companion chemistry for the first time since Love and War. The Doc and Fitz still bounce off each other well. Maybe there's no arc, but the future of the TARDIS crew does look brighter after this book.
And remember, Nightmare of Eden was followed soon after by a change in production crew, and Season 18. Let's hope Demontage continues its parent's tradition in that sense, too.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 8/8/01
I can't point to any part of Demontage and declare that this is the moment in which the author made the massive mistake that tainted the book. Neither can I reveal any portion of the story that is unbelievably wonderful and demands that this be named the greatest Doctor Who story of all time. The book ends up being somewhere in the banal center of these two extremes, being more boring than breathtaking.
On the plus side, the addition of Fitz to the TARDIS crew is definitely paying off. Even the Doctor seems to be reacting well to the change in lineup, verbally bouncing off of and teasing Fitz in a way that simply wouldn't work with Sam. And the added bonus is that with two companions, there is less space that can be devoted to Sam. This can only be a good thing.
The high number of secondary characters in the book means that there is a certain diluting effect -- most of them have hardly any depth at all. Instead of two or three characters getting the lion's share of the action, the roles are spread uniformly thin. So rather than getting a small number of well-developed characters, we get a large number of people who have names, short character descriptions and very little else. I kept trying to keep the two antique dealers separated in my mind until about half way through when I just gave up. I'm not sure if the attempt was to make a Robert Holmes type double-team of humourous villains, but the result was to end up with the same character given two names. The same also goes for the art exhibition curator and her financial partner; two characters who for all intents and purposes could have been filled by the role of one.
The plot is undemanding and the comparisons to The Nightmare Of Eden are all quite valid and don't need to be repeated here. There are some portions here and there where one can feel the story creeping up to the side of intrigue and interest, but right at the last moment it turns back to the banality. The revelation about how the creatures are manifesting themselves would be icing on the cake of a more engrossing story, but without anything else supporting it, it just seems to fall flat. The details concerning this revelation are also a bit confused towards the end and I don't believe that the connection between the creatures and their manifestation was explained coherently.
In any case, this isn't a terribly bad story and neither is it especially good. There are a few highlights but overall it's fairly forgettable.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 19/3/02
Demontage, by Justin Richards, is one of the best of the 8DA range.
By now you might be wondering what drugs I've been taking. I'm not. I loved this book. Read it in one day, then read it through a second time.
You have to realize that this book is a tribute to Robert Holmes. Now I don't know whether Richards planned this, but it has many of the Holmesian touches -- double acts, con men, scams and hustles, political intrigue, an intelligent alien race and civilizations given great detail with a few broad strokes.
Combine this with the usual twists by Richards -- the Plot King -- and you have something that is much better than it seems.
Characterization? The regulars are all great. Sam is more in generic mode, but Richards manages a nice balance of her annoying qualities with more pleasant ones. The Doctor is spot on, and nowhere near as goofy as other writers have made him.
The star, however, is Fitz. He is the sole reason to read this book. Every time he makes an appearance, he commands your attention. And some of his lines had me ROTFLMAO.
The plot itself is interesting, although a bit muddled. Political intrigue and xenophobia rear their ugly head on The Vega Station, a casino and duty free shopping island of refuge smack dab in the middle of a buffer zone between the Canvine and the Battrulians.
The painting traps were quite an original idea. Of course, with Richards, the plot twists come fast and furious. Some are predictible, others come from nowhere. All of them, as usual do not seem forced, or grate on the nerves.
Justin Richards is one of my favorites. He's a mandatory read, like Lawrence Miles and Lance Parkin. And I'll defend him to the end.
8 out of 10.
A Review by Sean Twist 22/1/03
I came to Demontage after finishing Justin Richards' The Burning. Both books give very different versions of the Eighth Doctor, and made for a rather intriguing contrast between the 'newly regenerated' Eighth Doctor and his more pixeish, pre-Burning self.
Whereas The Burning is an important book -- a must read, if you will, to see what changes are ahead for the Doctor -- Demontage is more of a typical Doctor Who adventure. Nothing earth shattering occurs, the ongoing narrative doesn't swing off in any bold new directions. It is a simple adventure story, and is grand for all that.
The plot is simple: the Doctor, Fitz and Sam are on Vega Station, a gambling outpost (like Las Vegas in space -- thus perhaps the Vega moniker, do you think?) that is sitting unfortunately on the borders between two worlds that were, until recently, content to tear each other's throats out. Political intrigue is rife, as it tends to be in such situations. To add to the already charged atmosphere of the space casino, there is also an assassin running about. Oh, and a painting exhibit. Difficult to say which is more unappealing and dangerous to public safety.
In due course, our heroes find themselves drawn into the nastiness, both alien and marginally human, aboard Vega. In true Who tradition, the Doctor, Fitz and Sam find themselves alone, each facing the mystery on their own, until the story unites them all in the expected confrontation with the story's incarnation of evil.
Demontage moves very well along this path, and it would be irresponsible not to admire the craft Richards uses to ensure this is so. With interesting supporting characters that are just typical enough for easy reader identification but given enough of a twist to make them memorable, Richards avoids the trap of cliche, of utilizing characters whose sole purpose is to propel the story along. Sure, each of these are taken from well established outlines -- the assassin is cold blooded, the security chief is harried, the local harlot has a heart of gold -- but Richards gives them tweaks that liven them up. (The assassin, for example, makes all of his decisions based soley on random chance in order to avoid setting a pattern. A little thing, perhaps, but it colours the character in the readers' minds.)
As for the TARDIS crew, Demontage gives us our first real look at Fitz outside of his original story, The Taint. He provides a much needed comedic relief to the durm and strang of many BBC Doctor Who tales, his ability to screw up even the most mundane situation adding to his humanity. He is a delight in this book, and his dialogue with the Doctor -- the little sarcastic comments of two men who value each other's friendships but won't openly admit it, men being men -- rings true. Fitz, I'm sure, was designed to reflect the readership, and with his need to imitate and pretend to be someone he isn't, with his overvalued self worth in the eyes of women, and his never being far from panic, I think the reflection -- at least in my case -- isn't far off.
Sam continues on the path of New Sam. Capable, decisive, and just a bit generic. I still like her, and still find her enjoyable. Of course, she's put through hell in this book, suffering the most of anyone who isn't killed outright. This has become a tiresome point in my readings of the EDAs -- Sam has died, been shot, almost suffocated, and that's just the last few novels -- and I wonder how much of this has been out of story neccessity and how much of it has been catering to fan demands. Perhaps the BBC should have run a 1-800 number contest to see how to torture Sam Jones: perhaps sales would have spiked. In any case, I'm not sure any companion has faced so much abuse. If the torture and anguish she has endured has been an 'in joke' among authors, then they should be ashamed.
As for the Doctor, here he is very much the pixie wonderkid he's been since the line's beginning. Physical characterization has nodded towards his need to repeat three times in times of stress, and Richards gets a lot of mileage out of the Doctor tapping his chin when he's thinking. The bursts of manic energy are on full display, but Richards tempers this with a touch of darkness as well.
At one point, the Doctor announces that he can break someone in half with his superhuman strength. This line caught me because a) I wasn't aware the Eighth Doctor had enhanced strength of this magnitude and b) the reference to violence seemed out of a character for a man who likes to relax while being covered in butterflies. The scene worked, but it revealed a side to the Doctor that is perhaps lying dormant beneath the hippie hair and permanent grin.
There's another scene as well that hints at darker currents. The Doctor, having figured out the dastardly doings on Vega, awaits two characters who will try to break into his room. The Doctor sits in a chair, the TARDIS behind him, and stares at the door(frame), patiently waiting. There's a grim intensity here that is quietly thrilling.
Having read The Burning, I wonder how much of this was intentional, however farfetched that may seem.
To finally end, Demontage is a fine Doctor Who story. It's fun, it's intriguing, and it has enough warm humour to offset the nastiness that occurs. It is, in short, Doctor Who.
A Review by Brett Walther 19/1/04
Does anyone remember the story about the sinister art gallery aboard a space station in which the art itself is imbued with hideous secret powers? Yes, of course you do. It was a brilliant tale told masterfully by Gareth Roberts called The Romance of Crime.
For some reason Justin Richards has decided to pay homage, perhaps, to Roberts' classic Missing Adventure in the form of Demontage, an entry in the Eighth Doctor range that can only be regarded as a disappointment.
Whereas Roberts made the most of a relatively small cast of characters in Romance, Richards seems intent to challenge Gary Russell in cramming as many characters into 284 pages as possible. It is simply impossible to keep track of everyone in this book, as the plot is fairly evenly divided amongst a cast of about twenty.
What makes things even more complicated is the fact that the book is filled with secret meetings, eavesdropping by shadowy figures lurking just out of sight, and characters masquerading as others. Trying to keep track of who the unidentified figures might be -- given that there's about one unnamed or disguised "lurker" in just about every scene -- is an extremely frustrating endeavour in Demontage. There's also an unnecessary amount of to-ing and fro-ing between the art exhibit and the casino in this book, which gets very tiresome.
I have also heard it mentioned that Demontage is a comedy, and I must wholeheartedly disagree. Granted Richards has fun with the setting -- a self-contained Las Vegas community in space -- as well as with the then-new character of Fitz, but the actual plot elements are dead serious. I mention plot elements in the plural, seeing as how Demontage juggles art theft and forging, the Doctor's past involvement with the Vega Station, the aforementioned attacks courtesy of particularly malicious art, xenophobia and an attempt to trigger interstellar war. To his credit, Richards does a pretty good job at juggling these fairly disparate threads and it virtually all comes together at the end. It's just a pity that getting to the end has to be so messy.
I simply cannot get around one of the central concepts in Demontage, and it's a lapse in credibility that thoroughly coloured my opinion of the entire book. The concept to which I am referring is the mechanism behind the mysterious art of Toulour Martinique, a renowned painter whose collected works are the subject of the art exhibit at the Vega Station. Although I am willing to accept that Martinique's device effectively transmats the living subject onto the canvas, I find it too much of a stretch to believe that the process can be reversed such that monsters that were actually painted on the canvas can be transmatted into three-dimensional form. This is truly awful, and actually bears a frightening resemblance to something out of a Magrs book.
Yes, folks, the monsters in Demontage are quite literally made out of oil paint and canvas. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Doctor dispatches the monsters by... Ahem... Chucking paint thinner on them... Oh dear.
If this book really was a comedy, then perhaps I wouldn't have such a problem with this. Unfortunately, the monsters go on a very real and very brutal killing spree, and massacre tons of people at the exhibit. It simply doesn't sit well to combine monsters out of a Roald Dahl-esque children's story with cold-blooded slayings.
The wrap-up after the climactic art show massacre is a bit of a mess, with some characters returning from the dead; some ending up trapped in paintings as they burn; while others are revealed to have been oil and canvas paint monsters all along! It's surreal. And rather lame.
One of the saving graces of this novel, however, is Richards' development of the character of Fitz. It's hard to believe that this is only Fitz's second story, because Richards has him down to a tee. After his somewhat lacklustre introduction in The Taint, Fitz is wonderful here: that lovable combination of poser, loser and sweetheart -- that bit where he starts crying because Sam is trapped in the painting is charming -- that has made him such a fixture in the range.
All things considered, however, Demontage is an uncharacteristic slip-up for Richards.
Not as fun as you have been led to believe... by Joe Ford 31/10/05
Reading this book you can desperately see the EDAs trying to turn their fortunes around. You can imagine Stephen Cole and Justin Richards (astonishing to think that these two men are both still heavily involved in Doctor Who's print life) sitting together and writing a list of all the things that need to be included in an EDA...
Demontage shopping list:
Well Justin Richards frankly. Usually I never have a bad word to say about this man's writing but this is one of the few times where he tripped up and failed to impress. What Mr Cole should have done was swap Justin and Michael Collier around... The Taint was an excellent character book full of great jokes but terribly plotted... perfect for Justin's talent to spin an unpredictable yarn. Demontage is a well plotted book but in desperate need of some decent characters and jokes... and Collier I feel would work wonders within this snazzy, high rolling environment.
The biggest hurdle Demontage has to leap is its first half, which is pretty appalling all told. I love the idea of Vega Station and the Doctor and Fitz having a wager as to who can win the most money at the gaming tables, it sounds like great fun. The blurb suggests a fast-paced, screwball comedy of a book but none of this is delivered within the pages. The story lacks the style and wit that would make this sort of story work and even the prose is relatively weak, shockingly shallow in spots (especially with lots of scenes written from the author's point of view that start with sentences like, "Someone was watching from the shadows... and that someone followed them menacingly...") it feels pretty lazy in spots, like the author cannot be bothered with the set up and has rushed off any old story. Where are the scenes of debauchery, gorgeous people involved in terrible scandal and acidic one liners and that would make this sort of trendy location work? Paul Magrs is another writer who would be ideal for this; he would cram the station full of hilarious, eccentric, bubbly characters. Certainly not the faceless nobodies that populate Demontage.
The best thing about The Taint was its effect on the fortunes of the regulars and with the inclusion of Fitz it looked like something had finally been done to shake up the interminable eighth Doctor and Sam partnership. Don't underestimate the power of these two... they have the ability to make or break a book, especially Sam who is so powerful an instrument she can drag a skilfully written book into the gutter (yes Beltempest I am talking about you...). Jamming Fitz (a lazy, cowardly loser) between the moral crusader and the congenital idiot was a smart move, finally we had someone about who could show up Sam's cliched moralising for all its worth and somebody for the Doctor to have some fun with without that fear that he would try and shag him.
Demontage continues the trend... to a certain degree. Fitz is the best character in this book, bar no one. I remember when people used to moan about how useless companions were and the wish to make them all strong, independent, resourceful types. What has happened here is a sort of reverse emancipation, Fitz is so utterly useless in every respect you cannot fail to love him. His attempts to act like a smooth James Bond character are awkward as hell and being mistaken for a professional assassin is soon corrected (nobody could fail to realise this wimp is NOT a skilled killer). Everybody takes the piss out of him and he seems to accept that he is the goon of the universe with some humility... and it works a treat. Two books in and Fitz is already a more distinctive and likable character than Sam...
...who wanders around this book bored shitless and wandering why nobody wants to spend any time with her. Admittedly I was also a bit bored and disillusioned with the promised Vegas setting that turned out to be anything but... but I fear Sam's endless moaning and borderm may have had something to do with that. Her despondence is infectious and when she was swallowed into a painting I was half hoping that would be how she was written out. A sort of Dodo-like "Oh where did she go...? Oh well on to the next adventure!"
Fitz and the Doctor share some amusing moments but there aren't enough of them and there is a partnership here to be exploited. It is possible to see the emergence of one of the greatest Doctor/companion friendships in the series' long history. Only 49 books left to explore it in... I hope that is enough time! The Doctor is at his all-time most relaxed in this book, spending half of it not really caring what is going on around him and the other half immersed in several mysteries and enjoying himself immensely. At least the arrival of Fitz has seen him loosen up a bit, even if this is a pretty generic interpretation of the Doctor.
Something happens halfway through the book, you can actually feel the transition, as though Justin has given up trying to be funny (always a lost cause) and gets on with what he does best, bloody good plotting and some fine twists. It is a dramatic improvement with all of the elements converging; double-dealing, bluffs, dangerous gambling, murders, revelations... it's a really busy conclusion that impresses with one surprise after another. The creatures are jumping out of the paintings! Sam is trapped in a painting! Solarin is not on Vega as an assassin but as a protector! Martinique is alive! The self-portrait was a fake! The Doctor owns Vega! The President's real visit was to negotiate a peace treaty with Bigdog! I had to buy a new hutch... that was how many rabbits Justin manages to pull out of his hat (oh look, I'm almost as funny as this book...).
It suffers from two of the most distinctive problems with this period of Doctor Who fiction, poor editing and a HUGE cast. This could have been far more memorable with a little editorial tweaking... Stephen Cole is a funny bloke (exemplified in Timeless and To The Slaughter which have some genuinely belly laughs) so why didn't he contribute some giggles to Demontage? There are far too many characters vying for attention in this book and none of them are especially fun, I can recall Bigdog the Canvine opera lover and Stabilo the fake showbiz queen but that is only because they are the only outrageous characters. Everybody else is painted in an invisible shade of beige.
This isn't terrible but it's nowhere near as special as it should be. This is the EDAs letting their hair down but rather than throwing everything into it, it feels like passing time until the next angst-ridden nightmare. If you want to read a witty, stylish and feelgood EDA go and buy Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
A Review by Steve White 13/12/14
There is something comforting about picking up a Justin Richards penned novel as you know you'll be in for a reasonably written thriller. Demontage is no exception, with new guy Fitz getting his first outing in the Eighth Doctor Adventures as bona-fide companion.
My one complaint about Justin Richards' writing style is that he tends to thrust a lot of characters and story threads at you from the off, and Demontage is no exception. The first chapter has us catch up with the TARDIS crew at a casino, witness an assassin arrive at the same casino, gives us an overview of the Battrul v Canvine war, introduces us to casino staff, bank staff and security staff who are plotting something, lets us know of the president's imminent arrival and throws up a mystery of a hidden passageway. All this as well as other breadcrumbs fed to us here. In all honesty, it is a lot to take in, and I feel Richards work is better suited if he keeps it simple, like he did in the brilliant Dreams of Empire. That said, nothing is that complicated, and it's all seemingly straightforward, despite the many threads and it does intrigue you to carry on reading.
By the halfway point, nothing has really happened and it still feels as if the story is building. It's all pretty entertaining, but the links between the plot threads are not readily apparent. It all changes at around the 200 page mark with the final culmination of all plot threads and lots of twists, turns and plot reveals. I didn't call all of the plot twists, and usually I do with Mr Richards' work, so that was a bonus.
Fitz has totally changed the dynamic of the TARDIS crew for the better. Sam bounces off him well, and the Doctor seems pleased to have another man onboard. Fitz is also very funny, although half the time he isn't trying to be; he really is a brilliant character and Richards has fun with him. Sam on the other hand is still a bloody miserable cow. She's in a top-of-the-range casino and hotel complex and all she can do is sit bored at the bar drinking non-alcoholic drinks. Richards doesn't really give her much to do; she mopes a lot and gets trapped in a painting, which many will say is the best place for her. Still, she isn't trying to fight anything, and I'll take this version of her any day over her activist persona.
The Doctor is well-written, with Richards finally getting to grips with him after his poor attempt in Option Lock. The cover blurb says the Doctor is in his element sorting out the various issues, and this suits the Eighth's style rather well. Add in the Doctor's youthful glee at gambling and his rapport with Fitz, and it's a damn near perfect characterisation.
Demontage does have a lot of supporting characters who are needed to tell the story being told, but as a result all feel underdeveloped. The good news is that, for the most part, the story is entertaining enough for it not to matter, but on occasion I did find myself having to check who was who.
Demontage is a pretty standard Justin Richards effort which is no bad thing, but, after seeing what he can do in Dreams of Empire, I couldn't help being a little disappointed. That said, the novel isn't bad, certainly better than Option Lock, and it's obvious Richards had fun writing for Fitz. The novel isn't that essential to the series but makes for perfect poolside reading, so is enjoyable by all.