1-903889-22-7 (standard hardback)
1-903889-23-5 (deluxe hardback)
|Featuring||The First Doctor and Susan|
|Synopsis: On a blasted world, the Doctor and Susan find themselves in the middle of a war they cannot understand.|
A Review by Finn Clark 10/12/03
Okay, first things first. Tara Samms is Stephen Cole. She's one of several pseudonyms from the BBC Short Trips collections. If you don't believe me, unscramble the letters of the last three words of the "About The Author" mini-bio on Frayed p137. I wasn't aware that it was even a secret any more. The only reason I can imagine for resurrecting a dead pseudonym like this is that the Tara Samms short stories were well received while as a novelist and editor Steve Cole has often been a bit crap.
Unfortunately Frayed is a bit crap too, and in a very Cole-ish way. It doesn't even feel like a Tara Samms story (much as Stephen King's recent Stephen Bachman book didn't feel like a Bachman book either). The Tara Samms pretence is just... annoying. There's good stuff in this book, but unfortunately it's dragged down by silly misjudgements and a one-note cast that's been cut-and-pasted from Parallel 59.
Like Time and Relative, Frayed is a pre-Unearthly Child adventure for the 1st Doctor and Susan, but unfortunately it doesn't wear this mantle lightly. There's a character called Webber whose final act, inspired by his adventure with the Doctor, is to start writing. [If you don't remember Cecil Edwin Webber, 1963 BBC staff writer who helped to create Doctor Who, reread the First Doctor Handbook.] Laugh? I nearly hunted the author down and killed him. There's also some nonsense about naming to Doctor and Susan... Susan's is handled quite well, but the "doctor" stuff [e.g. p30] is toe-curling. There's also some overly cute dialogue about "you humans" etc. which the text doesn't handle with a sufficiently light touch. Steve Cole isn't nearly a good enough writer to survive this kind of self-mutilation... I've recently decided he's a bit like Terry Nation, but less good.
If you read a few of Terrance Dicks's Dalek novelisations (Invasion of Earth, Planet, Genesis, Destiny...), you'll find their stories are all the same. The similarities between Planet and Genesis are particularly striking. Both scripts are deeply macho, completely humourless, a bit too long and preoccupied with moral issues. Genesis has Davros and better ideas, but the most significant difference between them is their production team. Genesis was produced by Hinchcliffe and Holmes, while Planet was produced by Terry and Baz. If you treat a Terry Nation script as life-or-death drama and play it for all it's worth, it'll sing. At any other intensity level, it flops like a dead mackerel. Steve Cole is a similar type of writer, usually turning out Saward-like runarounds with unimaginative plotting and overly macho characters. It's straight down the middle stuff, at best aiming for a sort of gritty intensity. Undercutting this with in-jokes is the worst thing Cole could possibly do.
The cast of Frayed is boring. There's no charm, wit or likeability in the whole bunch. When A kills B, this undeniably dramatic moment is let down by the fact that I didn't like either of them and couldn't even tell them apart. Children are being badly treated, but one gets no sense of lost innocence since everything's so bleak and dull from page one. [I also realised that one of my problems with the Telos novellas is that they've all taken themselves so seriously. No one's dared to crack a joke or take the piss. Fair enough, they've often been trying to create literature, but wit and a light touch was an intrinsic element of the spirit of Doctor Who.]
Frayed is a pretty unpleasant reading experience, but often deliberately. (That was a compliment, by the way.) The stuff between Jill and Olmec is simply creepy, while there's also some of the most horrific dream imagery I can remember in a Doctor Who book. Plenty of writers have gone for the gross-out, but Frayed comfortably out-icks them all. That's nasty. I liked that!
However there is one good thing about Frayed - its portrayal of the Doctor. This isn't the first time Steve Cole has written Hartnell and I've liked what he's done with the character both times. (You can even see the differences between his two Hartnells, Frayed's Doctor being specifically a pre-Unearthly Child version while Ten Little Aliens gave us a dying old man shortly before The Tenth Planet.) This Doctor is great! He's a complete bastard who doesn't care about anything but finding his granddaughter and getting away from here, but he's also arrogant enough to regard solving these people's problems as an intellectual challenge to keep him amused in the meantime. I loved the bit on p69. A strong protagonist can rescue even the most lifeless book and I must admit to enjoying much of Frayed when the Doctor was onstage.
Susan isn't in it much. She's missing for most of the book, which is a good thing since the Doctor blatantly means to bugger off as soon as he finds her. What little we get of her is okay.
Towards the end the story gets interesting. All kinds of issues are bubbling away here, some of them pretty disturbing. Steve Cole is trying to say things about eugenics, genetic manipulation, criminals and more. Frayed has a story that's well worth telling, but unfortunately it's a few drafts (and a few interesting characters) away from doing that story justice. Having read Steve Cole's work for various different book lines, I've decided he's a writer who particularly needs a strong editor. I've liked best his work with Justin Richards, while his Cole-era stuff was kinda bleah and his Big Finish novel was unspeakable. There's a lot of good in Frayed and it picks up towards the end, but file it under "missed potential".
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 9/3/04
After the largely difficult to read Fallen Gods, I was delighted when I realized I had read 50 pages of this, without once looking at the page counter at the bottom of the page. That means it had flowed nicely, and I was enthralled by this pre-TV adventure.
It's so early in fact that we get a (sort of) indication of how the Doctor is called the Doctor. It's sufficiently vague though that you can look as little or as large into as you like. This book is set before the first Doctor arrived on Earth, it could very well be his first dealings with humans. We're on a space colony, a clinic into mental illnesses. One that's being threatened, invaded by the local monsters.
The first Doctor is characterized splendidly throughout. I'm currently re-reading the TARGET books in TV chronological order, and the first Doctor therefore feels like my current Doctor (for this reading) for the last few months. It's a nice side step from that wonderful TV stories world.
Less successful is the involvement of Susan. She disappears for ages, and it feels as though the author really didn't want to include her anyway. The rest of the cast are base personnel. Sufficiently diverse, and full of raw feelings from their isolation, they are a rag-tag bunch. A salute to the creation of Doctor Who itself (appropriate to the book's early setting) comes in the way of naming a character Webber. CE might have been pleased.
The book is split up nicely too. Short sharp chapters, with interludes, are much more accessible to this reader. There's the main story (the attack on the clinic), and there's the experiences of Jill (the dreams and experiences, and how she is coping with them). Inevitably the two are connected, and we get a contrast between the nurses and the nursed.
The clinic, isolated setting is rather bleak. It does lead to some startling imagery with very dark and unsettling scenes. This takes it away from your traditional base under siege stories. There's also a fair amount of comment about such establishments, which is handled pretty well I thought.
I have read Tara Samms short stories before, and been pretty impressed. I have recently learnt that this is a pseudonym for a prolific DW novelist - one who is definitely better at the short story and novella form than full size novels (he slept once, is their name if you are interested). Their first novella is as good as the short stories. After that initial 50 pages of page-turning, things settled down into a more conventional read. I was always well involved in the story though, and finished the whole book in a quarter the time it took to read Fallen Gods. Pretty good. 7/10