THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Telos Publishing
Foreign Devils

Author Andrew Cartmel
Published 2002
ISBN 1-903889-10-3 (standard hardback, 10)
1-903889-11-1 (deluxe hardback, 25)
FeaturingThe Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe

Published by Telos Publishing Ltd.
c/o 5a Church Road, Shortlands, Bromley, Kent, BR2 0HP, England.
Synopsis: A supposedly harmless relic known as the Spirit Gate becomes active and whisks Jamie and Zoe into the future. The Doctor follows in the TARDIS and arrives in England, 1900, where the descendents of an English merchant from 1800 are gathering.


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 29/11/02

Foreign Devils is inspired by the work of William Hope Hodgson and stars that author's detective of the supernatural, Carnacki. To most readers I'm sure this will mean next to nothing, so for once the Telos foreword (this time by Hodgson historian, Mike Ashley) is quite welcome and interesting. It contains a massive and ruinous spoiler for the 17-page original Hodgson short story that's been included (at no extra charge) after Cartmel's story, but I suppose you can't have everything. It leads one into the main novella nicely and that's the main thing.

The reproduced Hodgson story is called The Whistling Room, incidentally. I came away from it feeling that Carnacki wasn't a particularly suitable hero for stories about the supernatural, since he's so aggressively scientific about his investigations that any weird atmosphere is bound to suffer. Fortunately Hodgson's wild imagination manages to overcome this sizeable hurdle, but I can't help feeling that I might have been more impressed had the foreword not spoiled the story for me in advance.

As it happens I'm not very familiar with Hodgson, but I've read his The House on the Borderland. The author's undoubted talent for sinister atmosphere impressed me, but after a while it just got weird. There were vistas of eternity, close-up suns, celestial globules, the Sea of Sleep and lots more that I'm afraid had me flicking the pages ever faster. Mike Ashley reckons Hodgson had "a far more exciting imagination and vision" than almost all of his contemporaries; I'd be tempted to describe him instead as a complete nutter.

Fortunately though, Foreign Devils is more palatable. I'd say it's the best Telos novella since Time and Relative - and it's even quite good too! It's not perfect, but it's an atmospheric page-turner.

The Chinese chapters is fabulous. The setting feels fresh and interesting, while the characters are lots of fun. Unfortunately there's also an English Victorian setting, which is efficiently portrayed but inevitably feels more well-worn than China, 1800. There's heavy-handed comment on the sexism of the era, which may be accurate but inevitably brings a certain "been there, done that". They aren't even particularly good scenes; the lecherous Victorian men are credible enough, but Zoe feels wooden and out-of-character.

Sadly, the TARDIS crew is probably the story's weakest link. Even when given dialogue that should have been funny, they don't sparkle. The Doctor isn't actually bad, but he doesn't have Troughton's sense of fun and mischief. Zoe, surprisingly, fares the worst. I know we've never seen her in a historical before (if you don't count The War Games) but she still felt too stuck-up and priggish to me. The story's material is aggressively un-Troughtonish too, which was more of a problem for me than in Combat Rock because there I was so taken with Mick Lewis's portrayal of the regulars. Ah well. We've seen worse.

For the second Telos novella in a row, there's a murder mystery in an Edwardian-like setting. I suppose it worked, but I'm not wild about this plot device in novellas. Even in full-length novels, murder mysteries can feel a little dry and Agatha Christie. In the confines of a novella, it becomes almost impossible to give appropriate weight and emotion to all the murders. Nevertheless this is merely one aspect of a plot that goes in all kinds of unusual directions and has some nifty surprises.

I've spent a good few paragraphs nitpicking Foreign Devils, but actually I enjoyed it. I like the original characters, I like their worlds, I like the story that's being told and I like the imaginative plot twists. Basing the novella on William Hope Hodgson's work gives it an interesting flavour and Carnacki works better than he did in The Whistling Room. A nice little story.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 5/3/03

By far the most substantial Telos Novella to date (long introduction and extra Carnacki story), this also is the best. I have always been of the opinion that quality matters. I was persuaded quite early on that the Telos Novellas impressive presentation, and better than average content, more than justified the 10 price tag. The stories may be shorter than the BBC Books we have grown accustomed to over the years - but the Novella is the ideal length to tell the best kind of DW stories.

Telos have now issued 5 books, and I'm a big fan. My subscription is already in for the next batch (I was that impressed with the line up for 2003). If they carry on with the quality that has been shown thus far, it is indeed a crying shame that they only have the license until early 2004. But I will enjoy these mini masterpieces whilst we have them.

Foreign Devils is a story by Andrew Cartmel. The main contributor to the TV show in its later days, Cartmel is one of the key contributors to DW mythology. That he continues to adorn the DW world with his talent 13 years on from that apparent demise, is a testament to his interest in the Greatest Show in the Galaxy - and our continued liking for great Who. Cartmel can definitely write great Who - as this Telos book shows.

Andrew Cartmel contributed to the 7th Doctor strip in DWM after he ceased to be Script Editor for the TV Show. His stories are amongst the strongest the Strip ever produced. Evening's Empire, Fellow Travellers and Ravens were brilliant stories - steeped in atmosphere and imagination. His Big Finish play Winter for the Adept was also pretty good - definitely one of the most unusual audios on the market. Only his Warhead trilogy hasn't been sampled by this reviewer - but after reading this, I may very well hunt out those 3 books too.

Cartmel is known to be an expert on the 7th Doctor (as his books and Strips show), but he'd written for a previous Doctor before in Winter for the Adept. He does so again here, the 2nd Doctor benefitting from some fine character writing. Also included are Zoe and Jamie, even the latter is written out for the bulk of the story. In Telos Novellas, because of the length, 1 companion is plenty. The story concerns Chinese curses. It is set in 2 time periods separated by 100 years. An old house full of mystery, a time portal of great power. It also focuses on drug trafficking. There are ideas of this book that Cartmel has used before, but they are such magical ideas (the house drifting in space reminded me of the strip The Good Soldier, the house reminds me of the finishing school in Winter for the Adept) they are welcome again.

The superb writing of Cartmel pulls you into Foreign Devils. The atmosphere created you can cut with a knife, such is his impressive descriptive prose. The characters are also well presented, with the Doctor, Zoe and Carnacki particularly good. Carnacki is the new boy - and the introduction prepares us for his involvement. Taking a fictional character from another genre has worked before in DW fiction (All-Consuming Fire was superb). Carnacki is a character I had never heard of though, but I am mighty glad I have now. I would be grateful if Telos could bring together all Hodgson's short stories to a wider audience.

Carnacki is an impressive character, but ultimately he is not allowed to outshine the 2nd Doctor. This is a Doctor who has been badly represented by DW Fiction over the years. This book goes a long way to redress the balance - it's the 2nd Doctor's finest hour in print.

Telos Novellas have commissioned here a wonderful story - exactly the sort of thing I want from this series. I am convinced that the Telos books could very well be hailed as one of the most consistently brilliant run of stories DW has ever produced, in the future. If they carry on in this vein they definitely will be. 10/10


A Review by John Seavey 9/4/03

And now, on to the "bite-sized" Doctor Who books. Originally, I thought the idea of high-priced hard-cover novellas was... insane, not to put to fine a point on it. However, the presentation of the Telos novellas in general deserves a quick mention, regardless of which one you're reading. To hold a slim, hard-cover volume in your hands, to open it up, revealing crisp, high-quality paper within, to read the foreword -- they have forewords, how wonderful! -- really, it's an experience very different from the usual paperback read. It almost feels ritualistic, and it's definitely something to be savoured.

So, on to this particular ritual -- Andrew Cartmel, of course, is best known for his hard-edged post-cyberpunk 'War' trilogy, in which the manipulative seventh Doctor and his pragmatic, tough companions deal with particularly adult problems like pollution, drugs, and animal testing. It comes as a huge surprise, then, when his Telos novella is a supernatural mystery featuring the most innocent Doctor-companion team of them all, the second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. (Actually, it mostly just features Zoe -- Jamie gets sidelined for almost the entire book in favor of Carnacki, William Hope Hodgson's supernatural investigator.)

Ultimately, this is another triumph of theme and characterization. Cartmel hits the regulars so spot-on one can hear their voices, and evokes the locked-door mystery genre so well that one doesn't even notice the gaps in the plot. They do exist, and when thinking about them, they become ever more obvious... but the book is brief, stylish, and slides by without you having to worry about them.

The primary problem with the plot, of course, is "whodunnit"? Or, rather, "whydidtwowhosduit"? The killer at first is an entranced medium; then, for no apparent reason, she awakens and the job of killer is taken over by the animated corpse of the family patriarch. (And his monkey, in one of the best bad puns ever.) I guess I don't understand why the medium was involved when the corpse had already been animated, or why the medium awakened when the job of killing off the whole family was as yet unfinished. And why, if the curse had expanded to involve everyone in the household, did the entranced medium awaken Jamie? For that matter, how and why did the house get transported outside of reality? And why set up the whole thing with the spirit lance if you weren't going to use it?

Still, the story moves by briskly enough that you don't get a chance to think about the plot while it's going on. The characters are crisply written (my favorite is Thor Upcott, a hilarious boor who invites the Doctor and Zoe to participate in an impromptu orgy.) Carnacki comes across a bit differently than in the Hodgson short story included, but I can't say that's a bad thing, as the short story is filled with dreadful turn-of-the-century slang and spiritualist jargon, which Cartmel thankfully eliminates.

On the whole, I'd have to recommend Foreign Devils just for the easy elegance of its prose -- the plot won't win any awards, but it's just a sweet, quick read that never overstays its welcome. Assuming you're willing to shell out for the Telos novellas, don't miss this one.


Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 15/4/03

Hurm, yes, if you read my review of Citadel of Dreams, you'll have read my rant against buying any more Telos Novellas. What can I say? Andrew Cartmel, ghost stories, how could I not?

First up, I'll say that I read this book backwards. The big feature about this book is that it features Carnacki of William Hope Hodgson fame, although this is the first time I've heard of him. And because of that, I thought I'd take advantage of another feature of this book in that there's an actual Carnacki story as an appendix. Best place to start to get a feel on the character before getting into the story proper. A quick sketch would be to say that he is the Sherlock Holmes of the spiritual world, but that would probably be a little simplistic. Certainly, I wouldn't say no to reading more stories of him.

From there into the story and the rest of the book. The foreword was read last, and unlike Citadel of Dreams doesn't go into many details about the story (although you may want to read the appendix first before reading the foreword.)

The story itself was a little generic for me for what is supposedly a special story (as all Telos Novellas are proposed to be), simply a string of murders, with occult overtones. At times, especially near the beginning, it also came across as rather forced, events cited briefly so that the rest of the story could be gotten on with. That all said, this is still a great read, very engaging and a tale worth reading. (One annoying note: it's usual practice in writing that if more than one person is speaking, each person's speech is in a different paragraph to help distinguish the voices. This isn't done here in a few passages, and this just reinforces what a good rule that is.)

The brief character sketches we get of the Upcott family are enough to give the reader something to hang on to, and makes their motivations later believable. As I said, I don't know of Carnacki, so can't say if this characterisation is spot on, but certainly nothing here clashed with the picture I formed from the story in the appendix.

With a story of this length, not everyone can be in the spot light, and Jamie is taken out of the picture fairly abruptly, and even when he is around doesn't seem to be himself (it may be that Andrew Cartmel has trouble writing him, or it may be that I'm not used to seeing Jamie with the author trying to represent his Scottish accent). This gives more time to Zoe, and she has some very nice moments especially dealing with 1900 mental attitudes and her role in the household (which I won't give away here). The Doctor is suitably kept scampering about the place, but he comes across as a little more on top of events that we'd usually expect from the Second Doctor.

So, in the end, a far better product from Telos than the previous work I read. If they were more like this, I might be more tempted to get the whole range, although if they could bring the price down that would make it a lot easier. If you like ghost stories, or even simply a good read, Foreign Devils is a nice diversion.


Foreign Plotting by Robert Smith? 29/7/03

The set pieces are fabulous and the writing is to die for... but the plot holding them together is decidedly shaky. This'll be an Andrew Cartmel novella, then.

Letting Cartmel loose on the second Doctor is surprisingly effective. It's an unlikely combination, but it works. Despite the fact that it makes the book lurch oddly, I really like the bald-faced way he disposes of Jamie for the majority of the book, because he simply isn't interested in writing for two companions.

Okay, sure, nothing is explained. We don't know how the magician was able to send people through time, or exact a revenge across the centuries. Nor do we know how he manages to extract a chunk of the earth and send it floating into space. Let alone why. But while this stuff matters, it doesn't matter nearly enough to ruin an otherwise extremely enjoyable book.

The first two chapters feel like padding, which is odd in a novella. It seems odd that the novel didn't start with the TARDIS arriving in 1900. The later reappearance of Roderick Upcott and Jamie's vanishing could have been accomplished just as easily this way, so I'm not really sure what the first two chapters add to the book. They're not terrible, by any means, just a bit displaced.

Once the story gets going, though, it really hits its stride. Cartmel's books live and breathe through their writing and this is no exception. The scene where the guests realise that they've actually been on an isolated chunk of earth floating in space is incredibly shocking. I marvelled nearly as much as I did the first time Cartmel used it, in the DWM comic The Good Soldier. Of course then, there was good reason for the Cybermen to be stealing a chunk of the desert. Here it's just kind of random. But it's very effective nonetheless.

Zoe the maid works surprisingly well, too. Jamie's been a bit overused in the second Doctor books, so it's nice to see her have some fish out of water screentime. And the various sniggering at the idea of she and the Doctor being lovers is thankfully confined to characters who would think that sort of thing.

I did the sensible thing and read the Carnacki story at the end before reading anything else (including the spoiler-laden foreword), which probably gave me a different perspective on the book than most. Carnacki didn't feel quite as consistent as I would have thought, but possibly that's because we're so used to all the Past Doctor books trying to recreate identical characters from source material. The Carnacki in Hodgson's story worked well for that style, whereas Cartmel's take on him worked well enough for this novella, so I'm happy.

On pages 41 and 48 Celandine's surname is Gilbert. On page 114, her surname is Gibson. I guess these things happen, but it's extremely annoying when they stand out like this. It's the literary equivalent of the hand on the cushion.

The ending is also a bit rushed, getting wrapped up in a page or two. On the other hand, I read Cartmel's 400 page Virgin Worlds novel (which is fantastic, BTW) and it got the same treatment. We should probably count our blessings that the ending wasn't proportional, or else everything would have been resolved in about half a paragraph.

There's a lot to gripe about with Foreign Devils, but its faults don't take away from the fact that this is a highly readable and engrossing book. At it's heart, it's a rollicking supernatural mystery that draws you in deliciously. It could have been utterly sublime, which is a bit of a shame, but as it is we'll have to settle with something that's merely very enjoyable.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 1/11/04

I'd never read any of William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki ghost stories, so before I checked out the main story, I decided to skip to the extra feature that this book contains -- an appendix featuring The Whistling Room, an original short story from 1910 starring the early ghostbuster. I really enjoyed it. So much so that I definitely plan to seek out some more from Hodgson.

In any event, after getting a brief introduction to this character and his universe, I started reading the main story of the novella itself, a neat crossover of sorts between the Doctor Who world and the Carnacki world. Cartmel's story doesn't have the same creepy, oppressive atmosphere of the Hodgson work, but I found it good on its own merits.

It's always interesting to see how an author attempts the notoriously difficult task of rendering the Second Doctor in print. I've caught a few broadcasts of the Troughton serials on MPT recently, so I had his Doctor fresh in my mind. I think Cartmel did a decent, if not quite wonderful, job of capturing him. He doesn't exactly leap off the page, but I think if you have a good image of the character in your head, Cartmel's prose will just manage to coax him to the forefront.

For Jamie, Cartmel amusingly just removes him from the story and focuses his attention on Zoe. This was a really good idea. I don't know if his Jamie could possibly have been as entertaining as his Zoe. Her stint as a Victorian maid is quite amusing. It's a cliche to have the futuristic (or modern) character(s) complaining about conditions for women and/or the lower classes when in historical settings, but Zoe's grumblings and the situation she gets herself into was too funny for words.

As for the story itself, it felt to me much more like a supernatural-tinged detective tale than the chilling, disturbing ghost story of The Whistling Room (however, I have no idea if The Whistling Room is typical). But I appreciated its pace as the mystery was slowly revealed. As a whole, it doesn't quite hold together completely at the end. The individual set pieces are good, but the ending doesn't have the full impact that it should.

Still, while Foreign Devils isn't a great book, it is a good one. It's absorbing and well written. As a crossover, I'm not sure it's a complete success. Carnacki doesn't seem to have the same impact on the story as, say, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson do in Andy Lane's All-Cnsuming Fire. Still, he makes for a decent addition to the cast, and his inclusion gives me a series of stories to track down. Foreign Devils isn't as good as Cartmel's best work, but it is better than his worst.