|Author||Robert Perry and
|ISBN#||0 563 40570 8|
Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace arrive on 1940's Earth to discover
a village is being terrorized by a mysterious alien force-- the Cybermen.
Trenchcoat Cybernetics by Sarah G. Hadley 20/6/98
Cybermen are my favorite Doctor Who villains. Throughout the sixties, they remain the most intimidating figures of alien intelligence on the show... particularly when towering over the diminuitive Second Doctor and his companions. Every 'Cyberstory' of that period has excellent elements: The Tenth Planet... with the original, imposing, partially human-like Cybermen... and Tomb of the Cybermen... one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. These especially stand out.
Then there was Revenge of the Cybermen. And Earthshock. Et cetera. Those were quite bad enough. Could it get any worse?
Yes. Silver Nemesis, the 25th Anniversary story (yeah, right), is potentially the worst Doctor Who story ever. The Cybermen are reduced to redundant, bumbling giants who wander around having gold coins chucked at them; the Neo-Nazis are reduced to redundant, bumbling stand-size people who wander around being blown to bits; and the Seventh Doctor is reduced to a redundant, manipulative imp who wanders around acting like a bumbling idiot.
Illegal Alien is everything Silver Nemesis should've been. It has Nazis, Cybermen, and the Seventh Doctor, all carried out the right way. The very best thing about the book is, indeed, the characters. No matter how insignificant, they all ring true, and, perhaps perversely, some of the most bit part characters are the best... Sid is a character who lasts only two pages, but to me is the most effective and effecting individual in the story.
The plot may be somewhat overused... most elements seem to be combined from Remembrance of the Daleks, Silver Nemesis, and Terrance Dicks' Virgin New Adventure Blood Harvest... but when they are reworked, they're reworked well.
I got my copy of this book at Visions '97 on the morning of the first day; by that very afternoon, every other copy of the book... and there had been about a dozen total... was gone from the dealer's table. It was also a hit in England, because soon after Visions, the BBC soon announced that no more copies would be available until June '98.
It's June '98, and the book is once more available. Any questions? I thought not.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 29/6/98
I have three different categories of Doctor Who novels. One is the interesting sci-fi novel that happens to have Who elements thrown in as an afterthought. The other end of the spectrum has those novels with are firmly inbedded in Who mythology, taking the chance to advance not only our understanding of the Who universe, but also to take the characters in new and interesting direction. And, somewhere in the middle are those Who books that choose to tell a story from an era without really adding anything more to it than that.
Illegal Alien is a novel that falls firmly into the middle category. It's an entertaining little novel, I'll give it that. It's just not groundbreaking in the way Face of the Enemy or The Witchhunters was.
Not to say it's a bad novel--you just get the feeling of "been there, done that" as you read. Part of it is that it incorporates so many elements from Silver Nemesis, that you get the feeling the authors are trying to show that given the right setting and a better story, Silver Nemesis could have been better.
What does make it a bad novel is the fact that the characters are so one-dimensional. Stock characters from the hard-boiled private eye to the kind old man who knows more than he's telling just come across as flat and dull. Add to it that the Cybermen seem lifeless and tedious throughout the book ("How many times can they lumber around London?" I found myself wondering) and it gets old quickly. But I could forgive all these if the prose style were better. The authors take a page from John Pee l's War of the Daleks, giving stilted dialogue, jagged scene transitions, and the worst offense of all, a Doctor who is completely out of character. It all adds up to a disapointing novel--the first in the BBC previous Doctor range to disappoint so far.
A lucky escape by Robert Smith? 28/8/98
I have to say, I think I'm somewhat relieved this didn't get made for Season 27. There are two vaguely recognisable people masquerading as the seventh Doctor and Ace. In the latter's case, this isn't all that important, because she has absolutely nothing of importance to do in this story, but in the former's case it's a real shame, because one of the ideas that's struggling to be realised in this book relies on the nature of the seventh Doctor; thus it would have been rather useful to actually capture something of that nature.
The Cybermen are goons throughout the book, nothing more. There's no attempt to use them for any other purpose or say anything about them or the series or the Doctor. They exist to provide some muscle and clear up a plot point from season six that never needed clearing up.
Cody McBride is the only character with any potential, but he disappears three quarters of the way through the book. In fact, I thought he must have been killed off when I was asleep. Instead, he pops up on the last page in an Oops-forgot-all-about-him sequence that really wants to end the story on a spooky note and fails so appallingly at this that it would be hilarious if I hadn't just suffered through the prose for the previous 270 pages.
Mullen should be a much better character, but he's trapped in two dimensions. Lazonby and Dr. Peddler are such awful in-jokey names that I'm actually embarrassed on the authors' behalf. Speaking of Lazonby -- I can't believe anyone got away with writing a book featuring a character as badly written and cliched as that! I have absolutely no comprehension about what was going through the authors' minds when they thought this might have been a good idea.
George Limb isn't quite as bad, but he's not particularly good either. The idea of the master manipulator being out-manipulated a) is incredibly old hat by now b) would work rather better if either of the manipulators involved had any decent characterisation whatsoever c) would probably be a little more worthy of consideration were the protagonist not a frail old man with no consistent motivation. On reflection, it's no wonder Ace got written out of the action -- she'd have snapped Limb in two without as moment's thought and ended the menace there and then.
On the bright side, some of the atmosphere of war-torn London is very effective and there are a few set-pieces that stand out. Unfortunately, these constitute a very small part of the book and the rest is painfully sub-standard. The prose style also really annoys me in places. It's amateurish and cliched in far too many places.
There are a few good ideas here, but they're mostly submerged beneath the authors' lack of talent. This is a story that just can't cope with the rigours of the novel form and has some awful stuff mixed in with the vast majority of just plain substandard stuff.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 2/4/01
It seems to be difficult for writers to do anything interesting or groundbreaking enough with the Cybermen to at least make them any more appealing. This has largely been down to poor scripts, where since The Invasion they seem to have lost their edge. The exception to this rule is the highly entertaining Killing Ground back in Virgin`s heyday. Then we step over to BBC Books and the first PDA for The Seventh Doctor and Ace.
Now there is nothing wrong as such here, it's better than Silver Nemesis, but the two leads here are vaguely recognisable, and the Cybermen don`t fare much better. The setting is perfect however and is captured as such and suits the Cybermen, but this alone doesn`t make for a great read. Indeed the only real standout character is Cody McBride, who eventually disappears anyway.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Illegal Alien is that it takes too long for anything to happen and the beginning feels like treading water. There are better books than this, and this isn`t really essential reading. 3/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 5/2/02
This isn't really a World War Two story, just a rerun of The Invasion that happens to be set in 1940. Bizarrely, between this and Silver Nemesis the Cybermen must have been contrasted with Nazis almost as much as the Daleks. Huh? There's no explicit comparison here, but I'm talking about general impressions.
Good things: the Cybermats are cool. (And for the second time in an early BBC Book - see Vampire Science - the Doctor and his friends live in terror of squirrels.) The blood and guts are the best bits of Illegal Alien, cybernetic body horror being a favourite of every novel to portray the silver bastards.
Bad things: the writing. It's a bit of a runaround, without much that grabs your attention. Potentially good scenes fall flat. The Doctor and Ace get good moments, but the characterisation is a bit thudding from time to time. Cody McBride is basically Dekker in a bad mood (though it's not Perry-Tucker's fault that I read this so soon after Players). One thing that annoyed me was the common failing in Who books of telling us the Doctor is "somehow" impressive, or that he "somehow" makes hostile or taciturn people tell all... with nary a justification for this "somehow". It's an old Terrance trick from his Target days and it was crap even then.
The in-jokey names are horrible and the typos are distracting too, not least the peculiar full stop shortage. However I liked the everlasting matches from GodEngine and the Hartnell novelisations. This isn't a terrible adventure, just not a particularly good one that doesn't have much raison d'etre beyond being Doctor Who for its own sake.
Cyber-cool! by Joe Ford 17/9/04
You cannot know how long it has taken me to track down a copy of this damn book. Despite negative reviews on all fronts (well except perhaps David Darlington's in TV Zone) the completist in me was determined to see my Past Doctor collection intact. So imagine my surprise when I finally read the damn thing and found the whole experience rather enjoyable. It was a quick read to be sure (I read it in three hour long chunks) but the bulk of the story was fast paced, exciting and readable. There are a few faults to be sure but on the whole Illegal Alien continues the fine run of books that opened the PDA range.
The cover blows the possible shock of using the Cybermen instantly, which is a shame because the suspense is nicely built up and leads to a memorable end of part one. Knowing what is coming leaves the reader tapping their feet in impatience waiting for the good stuff!
I have never been a huge story of the Cybermen for various reasons; I truly believe that the writers did not even scratch the surface when it came to exploring their potential. All too often their creed of "You will be like us" was toned down because of the family audience and the rather terrifying idea of conversion, which frankly is the only scary thing about them, was rarely seen. What we usually got was robots with ray guns, which is as boring as it sounds.
Special effects wizards Mike Tucker and Robert Perry clearly enjoy exploring the Cybermen a little more whilst providing the reader with lots of images that remind them of their glories of the past. The Cybermats are involved but are much scarier than they ever were in Tomb of the Cybermen or The Wheel in Space (I shan't mention Revenge) with sharp teeth that strip men of their skin. We get Cybermen roaming around in sewer tunnels (The Invasion), huge storage areas full of converted Cybermen (Tomb, Attack of the Cybermen) and they are in the revised design of the Cybermen from Wheel in Space.
What I really appreciated was how the writers subverted the archetypal use of the Cybermen (i.e. invading planets, wiping out other species, etc) and took at look at the monsters from a new perspective, that of human beings wanting to use them to advance their aims. The British army want to use them to create impenetrable battle armour that will help them to win the war; the Nazis just want to use them as foot soldiers to fight for them. It is fascinating to see how each side want to abuse the Cyber technology that has fallen into their laps and inadvertently the Cybermen manage to be a genuine threat without doing anything at all! Just the potential of their interference in the Second World War is enough to frighten the Doctor.
The best moments in Illegal Alien come when the Cybermen turn nasty and attack. You almost get a sense that Tucker and Perry are really getting off on how spectacular they could have made the material on screen and it shines through in their writing. When the Cybermats swarm into Mama's bar and kill all the patrons and their coming to life at the books climax and going to War with the Nazis, the violence on display is both scary and riveting. I loved the scene where the Doctor performed the autopsy on the deranged Cyberleader... there was much detail about how he wrenched the head from its shoulders! The Cybermen are (or at least SHOULD) be the ultimate expression in body horror so the sight of a Cyberbaby, complete with spider legs and tail is memorably grotesque indeed. It is great that the metal meanies are finally being exploited as intergalactic grave robbers.
What disappoints (as usual) is the garbled explanation of their presence on Earth. It felt as though Tucker and Perry were so excited about getting down to the action set pieces they rushed any old excuse to bring the Cybermen to Earth. How long have the Cybermen been in wartime London? How did they get their conversion unit set up so quickly in Jersey? Why the hell where they here in the first place? The motivations of the Cybermen themselves are abandoned under the deluge of subplots that build up throughout the story. There is some guff about the deranged Cyberleader on a mission to find an area for sleeping Cybermen, which is revealed to be the sewers on the last page but fails to tell us why or what their plan is. Perry and Tucker obviously want to continue the story later but it leaves a gaping lack of logic in the centre of Illegal Alien.
The setting was nicely done though; wartime London is not exactly a difficult period to capture and the authors add some arresting descriptions of St Paul's amidst smoke from bombings and the Thames as a river of blood. The Doctor brilliantly conducts wartime songs with a stick of rhubarb in an underground shelter... the thought of McCoy larking about like that brought a smile to my face. One of the best moments in the book comes when the Doctor cleverly uses a Nazi raid to destroy a factory full of Cybermen.
One huge, unavoidable problem is the authors' writing style. I am rehashing an old argument because in my review of Loving the Alien (the direct sequel to this book) I pointed out that Mike Tucker and Robert Perry have very different styles, which is proven in Prime Time, Mike Tucker's solo book where his style is Target-like simplicity throughout whereas certain sections of Illegal Alien are densely written. You can see the two writers sharing the content and their prose does not mesh unlike other pairings such as Kate Orman and Jon Blum who manage to disguise their joint involvement with a consistent writing technique. I cannot for the life of me say who wrote what but there are definitely two voices here and the result is an awkward read.
It may explain why the book starts off as a character drama with science fiction overtones and promptly ejects all the character stuff halfway through the third part for a dramatic conclusion full of sound and fury. A shame because some of the characters work nicely alongside the Doctor and Ace, particularly Cody McBride the US Private Dick and Mullen the sour faced English copper. There is some fun banter between the four of them and I can now see why they re-introduced the characters in Loving the Alien (having read the two books out of order I was quite pissed at the authors lack of explanation as to who the hell McBride and Mullen were in Loving the Alien!). Lazonby was one step away from a cliche as the tidy, nutcase army officer but something about his obsession with the "perfection" of the Cybermen made him quite compelling anyway.
Two characters who were spot on however is the Doctor and Ace who could have jumped from one of their TV serials as far as I was concerned! Their dialogue was so accurate I could hear McCoy and Aldred saying the lines and quite right too considering how much time Tucker and Perry must have spent with the pair of them. The Doctor remains compelling throughout, the real fun of his character here was watching him dealing with events without having planned them before he had even arrived... it was so nice to see the seventh Doctor relying on his wits rather than working with a safety net. There were a few moments where he was downright scary, especially when dealing with the sinister George Limb or trying to find Ace. His solution to use the Cybermen as his ally was ingenious and totally unexpected. Ace was mostly harmless, getting loads of action and tacky slang... she spends much of the book on the run and remains resourceful even if she doesn't actually achieve anything but get the Doctor involved. Still, the youthful and exuberant Ace is a million times more fun than that spiteful New Ace in the New Adventures so kudos to the writers for reminding us of her fun old days.
It's an odd book to review because is riddled with flaws and yet the finished result is actually a lot of fun to read. The plot is fast paced and attention grabbing and the Cybermen are used for horror effect better than ever before. If only the writers could keep track of their characters and provide some more answers we would be in better shape.
Plot holes and stunning set pieces... sounds like a JNT production to me!