The Eleventh Tiger
|Author||David A. McIntee|
|ISBN#||0 563 48614 7|
|Featuring||The first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki|
|Synopsis: The First Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Vicki arrive in China in 1865, a land torn apart by rebellion, foreign oppression and banditry. Struggling to maintain order are the British Empire and the Ten Tigers of Canton, the most respected martial arts masters in the world. But why do people seem to recognise Ian, and can it be that Barbara has seen a ghost...?|
Wonderful stuff! by Joe Ford 24/6/04
This must be some sort of record. Four good PDAs in a row! I don't want to tempt fate or anything but I cannot remember the last time I had such optimism for this range after the hysterical and magical Wolfsbane, the nostalgic but sweet Deadly Reunion, the spooky and engaging Empire of Death and now The Eleventh Tiger, a deeply involving first Doctor pseudo-historical set in 19th Century China. Over the past three years the PDAs have been of such variable quality it is a miracle to see such wonderful work being done, especially considering these are all old authors delivering some of their finest books.
I have a real soft spot for anything Hartnell anyway, the historicals especially. They embody the very best of Doctor Who, educating the audience with whatever fascinating period chosen and being full of colourful characters, quotable dialogue and genuine drama. Who could ever forget Barbara's thoughtful dilemma in The Aztecs where she has chose between letting men die unjustly or changing an entire religion? Or Steven's disbelief when the Doctor demands Ann Chaplet returns to her aunt's house despite the oncoming massacre in The Massacre? A great man once said you don't need to look to the stars for good stories, that there are millions of fascinating periods to explore here on earth. I forget what his name is.
And one of the best aspects of this book is the believable and attractive way the writer depicts China. I have never been to China and I know little of the place but after reading Eleventh Tiger I feel I have opened a little window to it. With his well chosen characters we get to here all sorts of folklore, intruging Halloween tales and many thoughtful sayings that reveal what an honourable and spiritual people the Chinese are. It is clear that the writer has done his research and his book is enriched with a genuine evocation of the period, the characters talk in a beautiful language and the scenery is described with a sense of awe. As the regulars take in the sights you can feel their heady rush of wonder, attractive collections of towering buildings and iconic statues and art strewn about. Deliciously we get see the setting through each of the time travellers' eyes and despite their very different opinions they all agree that the surroundings are delightful. A feeling the reader can share.
But it is through the Chinese characters that we see the culture shine especially the inhabitants of Po Chi Lam. Kei-Ying and his son Fei-Hung are two of the finest characters we have met in a while, when I first started reading I thought I would get confused with a mass of bizarre sounding names but these two are expertly characterised to diffuse such confusion. Through these two McIntee gets to explore two very different generations of Chinese, the wise and the respectful. Fei-Hung is a valuable ally, obsessed with obeying his father's wishes he follows the time travellers into battle again and again, entirely selfless aside from his wish to see his love Miss Law have the husband she deserves. But Kei-Ying was even more interesting, calm and controlled but extremely resourceful, he and the Doctor make excellent friends and work together superbly when there is a crisis. The lessons of the tale are practically all told from Kei-Ying, admonishing his son for his racism when it comes to treating the 'British', teaching Ian that what we are encompasses everything we do. Appropriately, It is the same sort of heavy characterisation that highlighted the historicals in the Hartnell era.
Bandits on the run from the law seek refuge in a cave and are confronted by three peace-seeking monks. When they fight the monks exude an eerie light from their mouths and eyes forcing the bandits to hide away and live in fear that they will never see the monks again... not exactly the average plot for I historical I grant you but the way this novel mixes the factual and the supernatural is masterly. Bringing up the Black Flag and the Manchus, we get a good view of the precarious political situation of the time and the Abbot's attempts to shift the balance of power are clearly quite a dangerous idea. The story delves deep into China's history, right the way back to the time of the First Emperor and I found myself absorbing the facts with delight. I love how the novel has been constructed, in the end this is a regular invasion tale but the detail and the fact that is cleverly disguised for so long means it winds up being much more than that.
I must confess when I first saw David A. McIntee's name on the cover I groaned. I don't dislike David's books, indeed Face of the Enemy is one of my favourite PDAs but going back a good few years when he was churning out two or so a year they began to get a bit plodding, a bit bland, readable certainly but nothing special. David himself admits this and when it came to books like Mission: Impractical and Autumn Mist it was clear he was running out of steam. Full praise to the man then, after a few years away he has had the time to write something truly special, this is so much better than some of his earlier works it is impossible to correlate the two.
You can tell David has a passion for the material and it shows in the writing, the prose is vivid and engaging and the book flows beautifully to a hell of a climax. In the past he has had a tendency to 'over write' a scene, putting in too much research and using grandiose metaphors and similes... none of that is in evidence here. The first third of the book cruises along slowly, exploring the location and the characters before the plot kicks into high gear in the second third with lots of kidnaps, mistaken identity and evil plots before grinding up the tension in the last third. It is a seriously readable piece, best absorbed in two or three good-sized chunks. Another old McIntee flaw, too much mindless action, was anticipated in a book that claimed to be about the Ten Tigers of Canton but I only counted three major action 'scenes' and all of them deserved to be there, snappily written and serving a plot purpose.
It is astonishing how much drama David manages to achieve with the regulars, especially when you KNOW none of them can die throughout. One of the best aspects of Face of the Enemy was David's depiction of the older and Ian and Barbara, a happily married, formidable team. The Eleventh Tiger explores their feelings for each other and provides touching material for both of them. It is so obvious they are in love, just watch them flirting like mad in The Romans, and it was about time somebody dealt with the issue. Like Kira and Odo in DS9, it is a love that has sprung from friendship and for some reason it feel more real that way, all they have been through together has forced them to realise how much they feel for each other. It makes sense that Barbara would want to hit somebody when Ian is beaten to a bloody pulp or that he would feel useless when he cannot help her, love brings the best and the worst out of you. The material for both characters is sensitive and authentic; it adds another layer to an already textured novel. And it provides the book with a perfect last line.
It was McIntee's interpretation of Hartnell's first Doctor that surprised me the most. Spot on, absolutely spot on. None of this overdoing the hmms and the goofs (although both are present but in moderation), the way to capture the first Doctor is through his knowledge and skill. Thoughtful and intelligent, he has captured his domination over proceedings perfectly. There are a number of gentler moments too that fit well in season two, comforting Barbara over Ian's injuries and his conversation with Kei-Ying about Susan are imbued with a fatherly warmth that made me smile. Plus the Doctor gets irritable when people disagree with him and act irrationally, he gets fired up when there is an enemy to fight and he confronts the abbot at the end with a venom that only the original Doctor could get away with. Oh and his fight with Jiang was a delight.
If I were to make any serious complaint (and I feel this is unjustified considering how much I enjoyed the book) it would have the be to question the complication of the two Chestertons. It worked for a while and I was intrigued but I guessed the truth long before it was revealed.
Let's hope BBC books can keep this momentum up, that's five for five this year both the EDAs and the PDAs performing spectacularly. Oh wait, isn't Craig Hinton turning up in a few months...?
The Eleventh Tiger deserves as much praises as possible, its McIntee's best book in ages, possibly his best book yet. Carefully nurtured and thoughtfully written, this would have made one hell of a four parter. Great cover, great title, great book...
A Review by Finn Clark 26/8/04
It's a good book. If only it fitted into Doctor Who, I'd have liked it even better.
I like to think I'm broadminded when it comes to my Doctor Who. I read comics, World Distributors annuals, short stories and even BBC 8DAs, trying not to reject anything outright. Greek gods, Celtic magic, personifications of Death and parallel universes... okay, whatever. (Don't mention the Deca in Divided Loyalties.) I haven't even grumbled much about the current BBC Books fashion for committing random magic and not bothering with an explanation, though if asked I'd probably say that the pendulum has swung too far.
However I couldn't accept The Eleventh Tiger. It's nothing to do with magical weirdness, but simply McIntee's conviction that Ian and Barbara were openly in love.
When it was merely subtext, I found it overdone and irritating. Then, to my astonishment, it popped out of the ground and became actual text. In an odd way, this made me feel better about it. At least now I didn't have to pretend that it was real Doctor Who; in addition if you're going to introduce something like this, you might as well go somewhere with it. The thesis of The Eleventh Tiger is that: (a) Ian and Barbara had sex in The Romans, (b) they're in love, (c) they realise this and can articulate it to each other, (d) they will get married. As part of the Collected Works of McIntee alongside Face of the Enemy and throwaway lines elsewhere, this fits. However when placed against the other twenty-five stories of Ian and Barbara travelling in the TARDIS with the 1st Doctor, I don't buy it for an instant.
Back in the old days, when we had editors, this kind of thing got cut from McIntee's novels. The Dark Path at one point referred to Jamie and Victoria sleeping together. As an undertone, as the kind of fan game we all play while reading between the lines, it can be fun. However if stated outright... sorry, no. Not in my opinion. What next, acknowledgement of a carnal relationship between the Doctor and Romana?
I don't even think it enhances the novel. Once could pull the Ian-Barbara relationship back to how Jacqueline Hill and William Russell really played it, but otherwise keep their scripted actions and thus explore more subtly their feelings for each other. Personally I think this might have been more affecting. Talking about love just encourages the novel to go over the top.
That aside, there's much to like in The Eleventh Tiger. The prose style is simple and clear, a deliberate echo of Chinese folk tales, and very readable. The portrayal of 19th-century China isn't drenched in historical detail like McIntee's Virgin novels, but it's confident and convincing. It feels Chinese, not just in setting but in tone and sensibility. I've tended to dislike McIntee's oriental novels (Bullet Time and Shadow of Weng-Chiang ended up boring me) but this impressed me. For the first time, I'd say one of this author's stylistic experiments has been an unqualified success.
The story's pace is leisurely, but for a Hartnell historical that's not inappropriate. The villain is a background presence rather than an antagonist, but the Doctor, Ian and Barbara are kept busy exploring China, getting into fights, making local alliances and more. (Vicki is underused, though she's never actually bad.) Admittedly the low-key plotting makes this a fairly putdownable book, but you'll be fine if you imagine it as following in the footsteps of Marco Polo or The Massacre.
I liked the use of continuity. Reference is often made to previous Hartnell stories to establish context, both in Who terms and historical ones, and I think it works. It's sometimes overdone, but it's still good. In addition there's a bit near the end that simply admits what we all suspected anyway, which I think becomes stronger for the explicit (albeit coded) connection than it would have been otherwise. This is how to do continuity references. By all means include them if they're relevant and add flavour, but don't make your 19th-century Chinese monks start musing for no reason about hitherto unexplored connections between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Invisible Enemy.
The cast is likeable, though I know nothing about the real historical Wong Fei-Hung. Barbara is surprisingly knowledgeable on Chinese history (after being as thick as two planks in other books whenever convenient, e.g. Byzantium!) but maybe she did some specialist reading after Marco Polo. There's a coincidence which should theoretically have been a book-stopper, perhaps, but since it's so central one ends up accepting it and reading on placidly.
I'd recommend this book. It's stylish, believe it or not, and an enjoyable look at China in the 19th century. (If you're looking for a genre classification, I suppose it's a ghost story. My favourite bit of the book is a completely random digression in which our heroes briefly wander into a never-explained traditional Chinese ghost tale.) I only had one problem with this book, as I've discussed above at unnecessary length - and even with that distraction, I still enjoyed reading it.
Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 9/2/05
I'm 90% sure this book is built on a certain audio I won't mention (which would be obvious to anyone who read this book and listens to the audios). Although I'm not entirely sure how it could be, as it gives the enemy an amazing ability they (if it is the 'they' I'm thinking of) never before demonstrated. It also cheapens the book because a) it indicates that David McIntee couldn't think of anything original and b) it turns what could have otherwise been an interesting historical into yet another historical that relies on alien influences (and I have raved about that enough in other reviews).
This book also references Byzantium!, and that is an incredible negative point for it. Not so much because it helps weave a complex tapestry of continuity, but because I hated Byzantium! so intensely.
And amidst all these references, I completely didn't get the main reference of the book, namely to the Golden Harvest source the author mentions. I get the feeling David McIntee immersed himself in this (and that's not too surprising given the depth of research he displays in his other novels), but, for me, a lot of this is wasted as I am unable to appreciate it. Perhaps this book should have come with a list of 'recommended reading' or 'recommended viewing' to get the full flavour?
The story itself is more or less straightforward, being that of the Doctor and allies fighting against an evil lord with an alien presence. (Having said that, there's obviously more to the story than that, the book is 280 pages after all, but I'm having trouble thinking of any other major plot strand.) There are complications thrown in the way, such as the Major or major allies ending up in captivity, but the book precedes in a forthright way that has people conveniently swapping allegiances to keep the narrative flow going.
On the character front, a lot is done with Ian and Barbara. While certain character developments were inevitable in the wider scheme of the overall continuity, shoe-horning them into this book wasn't the way to do it. There is no way the events here (which I can't go into) wouldn't have impacted on the on-screen TV stories, which in many ways is pointing to either a) the books are telling more story than the TV series could have supported, or b) that the books are becoming a separate continuity. Several people have probably already lept to b). I prefer the idea of a single continuity (as forced as that may be) but this is pushing the boundaries.
The Doctor and Vicki are downplayed in this story (I refuse to mention the fight), but Vicki gets more of a role in the explanations, allowing David McIntee to over-use computer analogies. The only other to characters of note are Fei-Hung and Kei-Ying, but rather than comment on them, they belong squarely in the realm of the third paragraph (about references I didn't get) and I would prefer to leave comments about them to others in the know.
The Eleventh Tiger is straightforward in some ways, but in others it is rather a mess. I had a hard time following the ending of who was where and how they got there, and didn't have the energy to go back through the book to sort it out. Not the most inspiring novel.
Oh, and one final comment: Martial arts sequences don't really work on the page.