The Indestructible Man
|ISBN#||0 563 48623 6|
|Featuring||The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe|
|Synopsis: The Myloki, mysterious aliens from beyond Time and Space. Their Target: Earth. The human defenders of PRISM are enmeshed in a doomed interstellar war against an unknowable invader armed with the power to possess, duplicate and destroy from within. Only one man stands in their way. A man destiny has made indestructible. Against all the odds the legendary Indestructible Man saves the Earth but victory comes at the highest price. The world economy collapses, governments crumble and PRISM itself is torn apart by a best-selling expose. AD2096; PRISM has gone underground, becoming the clandestine SILOET, headed by new commander Hal Bishop. Bishop receives an urgent summon to his headquarters. An infiltrator has been unmasked and captured in the heart of SILOET itself. Fatally wounded, the infiltrator makes a miraculous recovery. It appears he is indestructible. The implications are terrifying. The Myloki may just have returned. And who is left to stop them?|
TARDIS ARE GO! by Joe Ford 19/12/04
I have to be honest; I am not the biggest fan of Gerry Anderson's unique brand of science fiction. For the same reason I have trouble with cartoons (it took me five years to even watch one episode of the Simpsons), I like my television to be played by actors, no matter how inadequate they are. Having your entire cast as puppets is already a huge casualty in my eyes and this prejudice has probably blinded me from some quality programming (or not, those of you in the KNOW could probably answer that better than I). So it was with some trepidation that I approached The Indestructible Man, aside from SynthespiansTM the book I was least looking forward to this year. I mean come on... a Thunderbirds/Space: 1999/UFO crossover? Will the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe have be manoeuvred about with strings? Will Lady Penelope make an appearance? Will there be a huge island, which splits open to release stupid looking spaceships into the air?
It pleases me to admit that I was wrong to judge before reading and Simon Messingham has written something very special, one of the best PDAs I have read in a while and probably my favourite Second Doctor book yet. This is an extremely well written story, one that manages to tear the Doctor and his companions apart and deal with the heartbreaking consequences.
Quite brilliantly Messingham uses his source material to subvert expectations, not giving the Gerry Anderson universe a hand job as I expected but exploring the idea that this goofy idea of hero worship (and let's face it Gerry Anderson was obsessed with creating mythic, heroic characters for people to look up to) as a bad thing. He constructs the book out of so many of Anderson's series' but takes a harsh look at the realities of their ideas. Would the world seriously be able to finance a Thunderbirds type operation? Or a Space 1999 style station? Would the ordinary people on the street really look up to such organisations or actually be terrified of them? How would these organisations really cope with an alien menace none of them understood? Would they stay so close to their ideals if the world was bruised enough for the people to turn against them? I very much enjoyed this pessimism; it is similar in style to The Crooked World, which cleverly turned its loopy cartoon universe into something much darker and riddled with human emotion. This story isn't all shiny spaceships and expensive mansions; it harshly examines the state of the world abandoned by its heroes, the PRISM/SILOET organisation.
It takes a good author to build up an entire world in such small book but Messingham achieves the impossible by taking our planet and turning it into a utopia gone very, very wrong. By throwing Jamie and Zoe onto the streets of a cash-starved London we get experience the nightmare that Earth has become through their innocent eyes. They really do go through hell here and when they are reunited with the Doctor finally, it is clear how much the devastated planet has affected them. In a land where a man can be shot in the face for no reason and a retirement home can be purged because they suspect an alien is hiding out there, where former prisoners are coerced into helping rebuild and the population of London are all slaves, this is not the Earth you or I recognise and its stark brutality is a direct result of these shining organisations that promised to protect its people. With its dark atmosphere these early sections are gripping to read.
Messingham cannot write a book without using some sort of interesting narrative device, of that I am now certain. Tomb of Valdemar was written by an unreliable author (especially at the end when the original died and someone who was listening to the story takes up the reigns!) and The Infinty Race jarringly lurched from one first person narrator to another and even included some third person sections just to distract you! The Indestructible Man is far easier to read than either of those, mostly written in third person with a running commentary on the political backdrop of the story interposed in the first half in the form of an infamous expose on the Indestructible Man and his effect on the world. I very much enjoyed this approach, Messingham has a lot of information to get across to the reader before unloading his twists later in the book and this hard-hitting expose has just the right amount of spunk to get you really interested. It is great when you finally get to meet the author; in one of the book's most emotional moments you understand why he wrote such a dangerous piece.
Captain Grant Matthews cannot be killed. A product of the War with the Myloki, sinister invaders who pushed their way into our solar system and took over our people and turned them into homicidal maniacs. Matthews has since gone into hiding, his connections to the Myloki leave the people frightened of him and like it or not his invulnerability is about to start a sequence of events that sees the Earth threatened by the aliens again...
I have always admired how authors introduce the regular characters into their books, never being a fan of a standard materialisation but I have to admit Messingham has done a sterling job of wasting little time embroiling the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe into the story.
The second Doctor is supposedly difficult to capture in print but I have to question that theory because his last three or four books have portrayed him perfectly. This book pulls of a similar trick from Combat Rock, having the joyful second Doctor facing terrible events and dealing with his reactions. He nearly dies, faces the prospect of losing his friends, faces disfigured victims of a Myloki attack... and yet it was pure Troughton through and through. The way he huffs and puffs through the book trying to get people to pay attention to him was perfect. When he is interrogated he refuses to speak until he knows Jamie and Zoe are okay, falling asleep and snoring before his questioner. After spending time with battle hardened ex-con Storm and hearing his terrifying creed to kill the world if it meant ridding it of Myloki, he glares at him sadly and says "You poor man..." But most brilliant is his retort "I didn't do a very good job of it did I? Getting shot right away!" when he is accused of being an infiltrator into SILOET. It makes perfect sense that in a world where goodness is scarce, the second Doctor manages to seek out what little there is.
Both Jamie and Zoe get to grow up significantly in this book. Torn apart from the Doctor they are forced to survive on Earth without him, Zoe putting her brain to good use and Jamie his muscle. Whilst Jamie's psychosis was terrifying, especially his refusal to admit the Doctor was alive and trying to kill what he thinks is a replica, I found Zoe's characterisation even more satisfying. It is when she confronts Bishop, the man who killed the man she was becoming involved with, declaring him evil and shooting daggers despite his hands around her throat that I realised how far the usually calm Zoe had been pushed. She then meets a familiar scientific type and is ashamed to admit their similarities, hiding away in a stuffy room with numbers for friends. She realises how much the Doctor has given her and never wants to go back to being so isolated again. The dialogue for both companions was excellent, very true to character and I appreciated this adult look at their lives.
I was disappointed we didn't learn more about the Myloki - when the book was over the gaping lack of information about this intriguing species was my one regret. This was another Embrace the Darkness-style story where the aliens aren't really evil, just misunderstood. When the Doctor reveals why they are really attacking the planet, it is a very good shock. The book is far more concerned with the human side of the conflict and how we mere mortals crawl about on the planet making things even worse, making stupid decisions to fight what we don't understand.
This is so much better than the average The Infinity Race, sporting much meatier characterisation and world building and featuring a much stronger take on the regulars. What's more the pace is excellent, my interest never letting up until the last page. To be frank I am shocked at how good it is, I was expecting a camp disaster and what I got was a gripping thriller.
But whatever you do don't trust that blurb... the cheeky beggars!
This has to be one of the most depressing, cynical and downright dirty Doctor Who books ever written. The characters are all approaching (or experiencing) a nervous breakdown, the Earth is in tatters and even lovable old Jamie and Zoe are contemplating suicide within its pages. Nobody is especially likable and everybody is unhappy. It should be a loathsome experience.
I don't want to make this sound like one of my average thumbs up because this is as close to perfect as any PDA can manage. Don't take my words lightly, since the PDA range began there have only been five other books that reach the quality of this novel. And coming from the pen of a man who has let us down more often than not (the tedious Strange England, the atrocious ending that ruined Zeta Major and the unimpressive and distinctly average Infinity Race) makes this even more impressive. He achieves a great many things here that impresses me, which is why I have to disagree as strongly as I can with Mike Morris when he says that Messingham isn't that good and only succeeds here by taking the whole thing so seriously. There is some great writing in this book, some stunning scenes and as a whole there are few Doctor Who books that can leap from one excellent set piece to another with such excitement.
I find myself locking horns with Finn Clark again and this time because of his resistance to the psychological torture that Messingham puts the regulars through. I only bring it up because it raises an interesting ongoing issue with the Past Doctor Adventures that has never been truly resolved. Should they be faithful renditions of their respective eras or isn't it a bit pointless to rehash what we have already seen on the telly? Should they be taking the characters into previously unexplored realms, even if, as with Finn, it will upset some fans by turning against what was a fundamental aspect of their era: fun! There are good cases for both sides of that argument but I would always opt for the latter. Whilst it is fun to read books that could be novelisations of adventures set during their tenures (Catastrophea, The Hollow Men, Deadly Reunion), the writers are often fighting an uphill battle to think of something new to say within the boundaries of what was acceptable during that time. And whilst it is tempting to take a novel in entirely the other direction and pervert and distort the characters we saw on the telly into unrecognisable ciphers (Warmonger), more often than not, these strolls along fresh paths are usually rather exciting and a breath of fresh air (Matrix, The Shadow in the Glass, Rags). I would much rather see televised characters being treated to some development in the books - this after all being a strength of the novels, that they can look inside their heads without a rapid fire plot, dodgy special effects and a cliffhanger to fit into twenty-five minutes.
And the work done with the regulars here is extraordinary. Messingham has taken their core characters and put them into a situation that the writers on TV would never dare and still kept them totally within the realms of believability. One of Kate Orman's strengths is her ability to take Doctor Who archetypes and subvert and she has on occasion started a book with the regulars already integrated into the story without any boring materialisation sequence (which can be fab - consider The Suns of Caresh for example, with the destructive TARDIS taking a good chunk out of the Earth - but is more often tedious, such as Vanderdeken's Children and Hope's dull introduction of the regulars as if readers have never heard of them before). Messingham tries a new approach in The Indestructible Man by introducing the regulars off screen and having the secondary characters dealing with the consequences of their appearance, which kicks of a whole sequence of events. This makes their separate stories far more compelling, after their dramatic entrance it is fascinating to see how they fall on their feet in such a mad world.
Rather than pervert the relationship between the three characters the book strives to prove to the reader just how much they love each other. Jamie and Zoe only consent to moving on with their lives when they are certain the Doctor is dead. And what a mess they make of it without him. The first concern of the Doctor once he has recovered is the safety of his companions. They simple do not work without each other. But so much has happened in his absence: Zoe's fiance shot down in cold blood and Jamie's fighting instincts getting out of control as he battles with the life of a killer he has been forced into, and they cannot settle back into their world of innocent adventuring on a whim. The Doctor's reaction to his friends' internal struggles is heartbreaking, especially Jamie, his most loyal of friends. Messingham concentrates on their individual strengths during the Myloki crisis: Zoe's brains, Jamie's brawn and the Doctor's ability to inveigle his way into any situation and their separate trials throughout the invasion remind them that they belong together in these situations. It might be painful to see the three of them confronting their inner demons, Zoe's inability to fit in, Jamie's frightening ability to kill in the right situations and the Doctor's impotence when pain and destruction surrounds him, but it makes for more gripping reading than their usual fluffy banter. They feel like people rather than characters. And all this introspection and heartache further cements their relationship and provides an uplifting and touching closure to the book, the Doctor's quiet statement that he is proud to know them speaks volumes.
Jamas Enright suggests that nothing happens for long stretches of this book and this leads me to wonder if he and I were reading the same book. The Indestructible Man moves from one fantastic set piece to another, too many to count but my personal favourites being Jamie's haunting attack on the Retirement Home, Mackenzie revealing his storehouse of Shiners, the escape of Taylor from OCEAN FLOOR, the Doctor's trip inside Lighting 2 to witness the result of the Myloki beam on human beings, Taylor and Matthews' gripping assault on Sharon Island and the glorious climax in the bridge world between our universe and Myloki space. This is where Messingham's prose style works a charm; his short, sharp, powerful sentences do their best work when he is describing action. He manages to provoke some horrible images: the drooling, sadistic Shiners, the bruised patches of the Earth caught in the Myloki beams, misshapen human beings, the shrivelled-up monster that is Neville Verdana, the shockingly powerful Taylor tearing up anyone who comes in his path...
It isn't that Messingham is a bad writer; he just needs to find the right material to suit his unique style. The Tomb of Valdemar was similarly grotesque and worked very well. It would appear psychological trauma and visceral horror are this man's forte.
The most impressive thing Messingham achieves is creating a thoroughly believable and absorbing world to set his story. He takes all that colour and bravery and campness from Gerry Anderson's imagination and reveals just how arrogant and unbelievable it is. Big, bold organisations like Global Response and PRISM; Mankind's assurances that they will forever dominate the planet are brushed aside with merciless ease and not by a organised attack but by a casual exploration of a space they don't understand by an alien race. How's that for a kick in the teeth? The global economy of the planet down the tube, the funds eaten away by these supposedly flawless organisations that by protecting the world have now left it destitute and defenceless. Mentions of the third world benefiting the most from the situation with huge areas of land ready to be reclimated. New York going up in flames. Rome, Tokyo, Seattle and London surviving thanks to their isolation. The moon invaded by the aliens. Resourceful psychopaths released from prison and given powerful positions. The people of the Earth desperate, afraid and paranoid. Men turning to God to explain the blight upon the world, mankind finally facing his judgement. This is fabulous example of Doctor Who thieving ideas from another programme and utilising it with much more skill. Justin Richards called it a pastiche but that implies good-humoured digs, this is an exploration. With glimpses of London and Caribbean life, trips into space, underwater and to an expensive tropical island, we are given a fascinating and thorough map of the Earth dealing with the consequences of a terrible war. I found the worldbuilding as interesting as the story itself and the book continues to drop references to add more depth to the locations right up to the climax. There were a few occasion when Messingham forgets himself and descends into groan worthy pokes (Sharon Island... who on Earth thought this was clever... stealing inspiration from Birds of a Feather?) but even these are excusable when you see the clever things he does with them (I adored the shattered soul of John Sharon and his hacked up picture of his family... Gerry Anderson would be spitting blood if he read this!).
The Myloki are one of the most intriguing alien races Doctor Who has offered up and benefit hugely by their ambiguous nature. The Doctor makes a few rough guesses as to the nature of their existence but the reader is never given anything concrete, just theories, and the narrative leaves you to make up your own mind. I have always found the thought of an alien species so different to what we expect them to look/sound/act like that their very existence is inimical to human life fascinating. How arrogant of the human race to assume they are being hostile just because they don't identify with them? How like us to attack rather than try to understand. This why the Doctor is so important in this novel, he alone is trying to really figure out the Myloki, to appreciate them in their own terms, however different that might be. The book makes a great statement about the complexity of his mind underneath that comical exterior and how he distances himself from the main action to seek out one man who he believes can help the situation is another example of his unique perspective.
The Indestructible Man is a book that should not work by its very core ideas. Messingham deserves much credit for pulling off such a weak idea with incredible detail and clever writing. After several years of failing to make much of an impact at all, the second Doctor PDAs prove they can be as bold and as attention-grabbing as the rest. Irritating references aside, I found this book a unputdownable second read.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 1/3/05
I've always enjoyed Simon Messingham's novels, if only because, like Paul Magrs, he always seems to have something more on his mind than just telling a Who story as well as trying to actually write a novel, instead of a television episode in script form.
The Indestructible Man seems to me to be a Frank Miller-esque attempt to demistify heroes and show them for the bastards they really must be. And in throwing into this mix the "innocent" TARDIS team of the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, (while putting them through hell) some sort of deeper meaning is supposed to come out of what it means to be a hero.
It's also supposed to be a parody/sendup/deconstruction of the Thunderbirds/Gerry Anderson marrionette shows. It's a frame of reference that does nothing for me, to be honest. However, for me it seemed more like a Sci-Fi Tom Clancy novel send up, especially with the use of military speak and ACRONYMS appearing in every other paragraph.
The guest characters are all bastards, pretty much. Not surprising coming from Messingham, who seems to enjoy writing about bastards. Alas, the only guest character that comes off with any depth is Bishop, and, after awhile, I found him annoying.
Of the regulars, I have to give Messingham lots of credit for delivering one of the better 2nd Doc book protrayals. It's a great mix of clown, moralist, meddler and father figure that the second Doctor was. Zoe comes off quite well as someone using her old skills to cope with a new nasty environment. Unfortunately, Jamie spends most of the story doped up or a drooling psycho. Such a shame.
The story itself is a mix of globe-trotting adventure and deep character insight. It works, for the most part. But the ending comes out of left field and almost seems to be thrown into the story as a half-assed tribute to the end of 2001.
The Indestructible Man has it's moments, although in the end, I wasn't all that impressed. Caveat Emptor.
Lightning Strikes! by Steve Crow 7/3/04
I can't say I'm a big fan of Simon Messingham. I missed Infinity Race for some reason and Face-Eater didn't make a big impression. Strange England didn't do much for me, and Zeta Major and Tomb of Valdemar didn't really make much impression on me.
So I was surprised to find The Indestructible Man a page-turner. It's enough to make me go back and read over Messingham's other books and see what I missed. It certainly suggests I need to reassess something.
I'm also not a big fan of the Gerry Anderson genre - other then Space: 1999, I missed all the UFO/Thunderbirds/Stingray stuff and gave the Thunderbirds movie remake a wide berth. However, I'm not tempted to dig those out based on what I'm reading. But Messingham's alternate view does indeed "deconstruct" them as Terrence Keenan notes above. It's not entirely "How would those kind of heroes function in the real world?" - the Sharon family are almost too pure and altruistic as presented, and they pay for it - see the fate of the one surviving family member, John. It's an interesting view, nonetheless.
So we have a future society (2096) that is pretty well presented. We do see bits of it through the two other factions that Zoe and Jamie end up with (and a brief bit on Barbados) but really the focus is on the artificial society surrounding SILOET. Here it is a bit hokey - the mini-skirts and purple wigs get an explanation of sorts but not a very good one.
The Myloki, for not appearing, are paradoxically well-presented - the image of an ominous face in the sky, their main representative "Captain Death" and their lesser minions. As noted above, we don't really find out much about them but that would probably rob them of their mystique. My only gripe (and I'd return to this below) is that the ending and their creation of an Earth-like reality is a bit "been there done that" and kinda-sorta reduces them to a less mystifying presence. Or not. The ending is a bit muddled.
Bishop is another in a long line of Troughton-era base commanders who wigs out under the pressure. He also pays for it, unlike some. Captain Matthews is the most impressive character, though - Messingham brings out exactly what the price one pays for immortality, and as the Doctor notes, he's already feeling the pressure after 30 years. But he still holds it together and is the typical English action hero - as much Bond as Blimp.
The real strength of the book is the regulars. The Doctor is flat out the best presented in any Second Doctor book. Messingham flawlessly interweaves all of his aspects - he's serious, dramatic, clownish, engaged in the occasional slapstick, and ends up dominating the whole circumstance.
Zoe seems to be here from early in her tenure - she's still coming to grips with life outside of the Wheel. The comparison (or lack thereof) of her former life to her "new" life as a technician-slave is subtlety done. I'm not sure I buy her brief romantic relationship and she seems to recover pretty quickly herself.
I'd have to disagree with Terrence's opinion of Jamie. His escape from imprisonment is another high point of Messingham's writing, demonstrating that Jamie isn't a dimwit as he effortlessly escapes through a combination of brains and brawn that would make a good action sequence in any movie. There's also his recovery of his faith in the Doctor, and that scene is one of the truly touching moments in the book that is indeed filled with a great deal of pointless slaughter and brutality. There are also bits of his background that we see without being intrusive, like how he takes advantage of a guard's flinch reaction while observing his own father had beat it out of him.
So the book moves along, never flagging. There's not really any action pieces - we're spared a lot of major space battles or giant nuclear-powered craft soaring into the air. Nonetheless the excitement keeps up - the battle of the Indestructible Men is another high point at a vitally needed point. And then we get to the end. Which . . . ummm, I'm not sure what it means, honestly. What happened to Bishop, for instance? He just kinda/sorta disappears - I'm not sure why and maybe I need another re-read. The writing and description is a bit muddied so I'm not quite sure if Bishop ended up where the others were trying to get to. But then the Doctor returns to his companions and their friendship is confirmed.
There are a few editorial glitches that muddy the waters. On page 178 due to a capitalization glitch Koslovski is referred to as "The Doctor", which is a bit confusing. (Koslovski is also a not-complete-bastard, but he pays heavily for it). There's also an odd bit on page 205 when the Doctor wonders if the local natives are the Yanomamo and is concerned they're cannibals. But on page 208 we find out they are "Yanomamo" and friendly - the name similarity is a little confusing. And... if Matthews manages to survive the ME, shouldn't Taylor? So where is he near the end?
Overall, though, I found The Indestructible Man the best Past Adventure in... well, a long time. Looking back over the line, there have been some good ones but no really outstanding ones in my opinion. The Indestructible Man is definitely a major blip upward in the PDA line.
A Review by Mike Morris 13/3/05
I had grave concerns when this arrived, shiny and new in my terribly exciting bimonthly Who package from Amazon. Zoe with purple hair on the cover? Ugh! And the blurb, the premise; war with a disembodied enemy that uses human agents? A secret organisation fighting against them? An indestructible man? Sheesh, Doctor Who does Captain Scarlet! Why? For the love of god, why?
This story, though, is a salutary lesson on how "Doctor Who does X/Y/Z" can be a good thing. This is not pastiche or cosy nostalgia. It doesn't rely on us getting the references; it's not that we're expected to be catapulted into glee by the cleverness of this, as in oh, it's The Tomorrow People! It's Star Trek! It's Dynasty! It's... whatever's considered amusingly camp this week.
No, what we're doing here is: seriously inhabiting the ideas and turning them into something Doctor Who can use, and can do better than the original. Yes, the Myloki roughly correspond to the Mysterons, Matthews is obviously Captain Scarlet, and PRISM/SILOET take the place of whatever the hell Captain Scarlet's organisation was called. But there the similarities actually end. What Messingham realises is that a: the rest of Captain Scarlet was rubbish, and revolved around invaders actually telling their adversaries what they were going to do, and that b: having a bit where someone says "this is the voice of the Myloki" isn't side-splittingly hilarious or mindwarpingly clever (not that these comments are aimed at any specific author or anything).
In fact, we're back in older and more satisfying territory here. It's not Doctor Who does X/Y/Z; it's Doctor Who plunders X/Y/Z, as in The Brain of Morbius ripping off the best bits of Frankenstein, or any number of those Hinchcliffe stories reworking Hammer Horror films. And before anyone says "yes, but that's different, Captain Scarlet was a silly old show but the Hammer films are classics..." have you ever seen them? They're crap! They're cheap, melodramatic and badly acted. But what Holmes/Hinchcliffe did was take all the best elements of those films, not poke fun at all the worst bits. Messingham does the same thing here; however, Captain Scarlet actually had very few good bits bar the premise. So he takes that premise and uses it, very cleverly, to say something very interesting and very topical.
What might that be then?
Pg 44: "Why did they choose to conduct a war of terror instead, using possessed human agents as their tools?"
What should be discussed first, though, is just how much word-building Messingham does in this book. It takes place over a vast scale, with (initially) Jamie and Zoe being thrown on opposite sides of the divide - not exactly a new tactic, but it works. Messingham is clearly really, really interested in what makes these characters tick. Jamie and Zoe on screen were great fun, but they never really felt like anything more than stereotypes. Nice, enjoyable stereotypes, who gave us some good laughs, yes, but not real people. Messingham's not having any of that. He brainwashes Jamie, showing us this guy as what he is - a killer. A soldier. A man who's grown up surrounded by death. Not a play-it-for-laughs kilt-wearing Scot with a dirk that he uses when he absolutely has to. And Messingham has every right to do this; what are the PDA's for, if not to look at familiar characters in unfamiliar ways, if not to reinterpret the past? What - you think they're there to provide era tributes? Stories we might as well have seen on television anyway? Give me strength.
Pg 59: "Restriction on travel, restrictions on food, everything. Terrorists, they tell us. A huge global threat. And then they tell us about New York and the atomics. Just a big hole in the ground and nobody knows why."
And the same with Zoe. She's not a comic foil, replete with a few little logic games. This is a woman who can lose herself in computer worlds. It's a woman who's on the point of getting married. This is someone intensely vulnerable, and yet vaguely disturbing; lost in numbers, retreating there after being bereaved.
And so the story progresses with Jamie on the outside, Zoe on the inside. One in there with the religious fanatics, the dangerous revolutionaries. The other one supposedly living in the right and proper world, although it's not much of a life either. And then there's the Doctor, right in there and connecting himself with the establishment. Between the experiences of the three, we piece together how this world works - or rather, how it doesn't.
It's the incidental touches that work so well, and give this future Earth a real depth. SKYHOME and OCEAN FLOOR, for example. The use of acronyms generally. The device of using excerpts from an expose on PRISM. Flights to the West Indies. And the Shiners. Dear god, the Shiners. Revolting doesn't even come close.
Pg 65: "Jamie gun-butted him in the face. The youth buckled. A mess, he tried to ward off Jamie's blows. Jamie slammed the gun down again and again, tears in his own eyes."
That's not to say this book's perfect. The prose, in particular, could use a good edit; in some places it's spectacular, in others it's badly overwritten. The acronyms are overused early on, making the action confusing. And as for Messingham's characters; somebody tell this man never to write a bitter cynic ever again. This book's crawling with them, and they're all so damn boring! Bishop is just the dullest man on the planet; we're supposed to get involved with his tragedy, but it's all so inevitable and predictable. In comparison with the wonderful creation that is Mr Mackenzie, this is where the book really falls down.
Pg 70: "That they were intelligent and organised and hostile was about all we could understand... and that is what I believe the Myloki to be - everything that is beyond us."
Well, "falls down" is a little harsh. "Stumbles" would be, er, a more apposite epithet. Somehow, though, that's what makes this all so admirable. It's because Messingham isn't... well, he isn't that good. He's produced a PDA that means something, that matters, just by taking the damn thing seriously. And he never loses himself in his own allegory; really, this is a sprawling SF epic (or as close to epic as a 300-page book can get), not a satire. The fact that his world has antecedents in our own is just what gives it resonance - it's what makes it matter. So I'll happily overlook the rough edges - say, the references to other Second Doctor adventures, which sit awkwardly in a book so different from the usual Second Doctor fare. It doesn't help to be reminded of The Wheel in Space when reading this. It also highlights a whopping great continuity problem - this is set in Zoe's past! So wouldn't you expect her to know a little, just a little about it? Like, the world falling to pieces and all would surely have appeared in a history book or two.
Pg 78-79: "The City had dealt with the real threat of resistance and rebellion with a unique methodology. The truth... Personal liberty. Once so important to her, and vital to what made the Doctor what he was, now seemed like a foolish luxury."
Some of Messingham's sharper observations are couched in other metaphors. Zoe's description of the City is magnificently close to current outlooks, and all the sharper for the device of stars being pinned on the lapels of the underclasses, drawing a parallel to Nazi Germany. Other points are incidental, but blackly comic. The secret government organisation is based in a television centre - there's a touch of genius that kicks Rupert Murdoch squarely in the goolies.
And, like all the best black comedy, it's played absolutely straight. As in the way that Dawn of the Dead's lampooning of consumerism is all the more funny for these people really being shit-scared of these zombies. Another example is the utter uselessness of SEWARD, the rather elaborate space-based warning system against missile attacks; and it's even possible to discern the real-world origins of various characters and our attitude towards them. Again, it's never anything less than sharp.
Pg 88: "The attacks started... he showed up again... the team I had suddenly taken charge of scoured recovered video footage, not believing our eyes. He seemed to be the same man."
The story can't be called cohesive, but that's part of the point. This isn't about neat plotting - it's about showing us a world, quite literally, gone mad. Messingham treats all his characters seriously, and follows their stories to the end. One of the highlights of the book is the Doctor's trip to the West Indies and what he finds there, and in truth it's got sod-all to do with the unfolding story. The further on the book goes, the more jagged and random the action becomes - at times, I think it's due to a lack of writing skill, but there's also a deliberate element to it. This is war, this is madness. Nobody knows what's going on. And what Messingham does, brilliantly, is make us believe that the winning or losing of this war is dependent on one man. Just one. And even more brilliantly, he even reveals that's quite literally the case, bringing the book to a sharp and impressive character-based focus. He bats another question around; what would it be like if we couldn't die? He treats it seriously, and it works.
Pg 140-141: "We don't know who they are, what they want or why they have come. Their abilities seem limitless and they're totally invisible... why can't we detect them?"
As for the ending - well, it's enigmatic, and not a neat resolution. Terrance Keenan might be right when he points out a half-assed 2001 reference. And yet I thought it felt right. Because ultimately, defeating enigmatic beings must be done in an enigmatic way. This is uplifting, and right; an actualisation of one world understanding the other, and peace coming from that. However, it is a little too arsey, and feels strange after the hyperrealism of what's gone before. It would be interesting to put a blanket ban on dreamscapes in Doctor Who for a bit; I can't help but feel everything would get better. And please, please, please; no more dead people popping up in the afterlife! There are some questions that Doctor Who can't answer - you know, the ones that people can't answer - so it shouldn't be seen to be trying.
Pg 201: "There's no point in that sort of speculation. They're the enemy, and we have to stop them. Why even bother?"
So why, in spite of the fact that it's actually a bit of a slog at times, do I admire this book for what it is?
Answer; ambition and graft. Because this is a book that tries to matter, and by simple virtue of belief and hard work it manages to succeed. It takes its subject matter seriously and so somehow manages to make the central conceit work; a Captain Scarlet-type future earth, reinvented so that it reflects the craziness of our times. Global politics and the War on Terror transposed through a silly puppet-show to a Doctor Who story. It sounds crazy, but he makes it work. This is a story that lands some big punches by showing us a world gone mad; a world so clearly drawn from our own.
Sorry, I must have neglected to discuss the obvious parallels to the War on Terror before now. Actual political content in Doctor Who deserves more discussion than I've given it, and here it deserves nothing but applause. I suppose I should have looked at the satire element in more detail.
But really, it's obvious, isn't it?
Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 15/3/05
I'm not sure what would be worse: reading this book and not getting the references, or reading the book and getting the references. I was in the latter camp, and I know I experienced a lot of pain. (Remember what I said in The Tomorrow Windows review about heavy influences?)
The worst part isn't that this is Doctor Who meets Gerry-Anderson World, the worst part is that it is written by Simon Messingham. I'm sure this sort of cross-over could be done well, just can we please have it done by someone else?
What possessed Simon Messingham and made him think that doing this book dark was the way to go? What about Gerry Anderson's wonderful various TV series (and here's hoping that that genius of a man never sees this piece of junk) inspired the author to say 'Oh yes, now let's have him slit his wrists!' Yes, admittedly, sometimes that sort of twist can work (anyone who's read Alan Moore's Marvel Man would agree), but not here.
I'm not going to give all the references (that's a nice and easy article for someone else), but I'm sure by now you can guess some of them (especially if you see the cover). Simon Messingham mixes them up and places them in the real world of Doctor Who, giving some world history as he does so. Indeed, The Seeds of Death is referred to (although hasn't happened yet in the Doctor's timeline), but how exactly would Warriors of the Deep fit in? By this, I mean that Simon Messingham has decided to shoe-horn his own history in, no matter what the cost. And if he's not going to bother about the work of others, why should I bother with his?
But is it all bad? Actually, I have to say 'no'. If the author hadn't thrown in so many references, he might just have an interesting story here. (I guess this answers my first question, it would be better to read this book without knowing the links.) An alien force was defeated at a high cost, but now they're back for Round 2. Sounds like a classic set-up, and certainly a story can be spun around it. (On the other hand, there's a lot of backstory that is made easier to follow if you know what the author's ripping off.)
On the other hand, I just remembered another problem. Padding. Extensive amounts thereof. The first hundred pages, for example. It would be called world-building if it weren't so casually dismissed. Huge chunks in the middle were pretty replaceable too. Not to mention that the last section of the book was just interminable. (I'm now thinking that, yes, it is all bad.)
The Doctor is put through an annoying plot point (why was that needed?), before spending the rest of the book running around (which isn't that far off character, but that doesn't make it right). Jamie and Zoe are given unbelievable character arcs to go through, even more unbelievable as we know Simon Messingham has to hit the reset button by the end. It might have worked if they were allowed to keep the experiences they went through here, but of course they can't.
I'm not even going to mention the other characters, because I know where they came from and really don't want to think about it anymore.
After all this, how do you think I feel? Still, they say venting helps, and at this point The Indestructible Man needs all the help it can get.
A Review by Finn Clark 25/4/05
In some ways, commendable. On one level this is a great improvement on Messingham's last book, The Infinity Race, if only because this time the author's putting his back into it. This is a serious, not to say grim, look at a society that's still traumatised and brutalised from a recent war.
Unfortunately I'd sooner reread The Infinity Race.
My biggest objection is so subjectively fannish that you'll probably think I'm nuts. We've seen plenty of un-Whoish novels, but for me this crossed a line. Make Jo Grant a drug addict, shoot Dodo through the head... okay, fair enough. I won't love you for it, but I'll keep reading. But for me the Troughton era is special, a time of innocent mischief and pure joy. The Doctor and his friends have often tended to be childlike (e.g. Tom Baker and Liz Sladen), but we've seen a mature Sarah Jane too. However the 2nd Doctor and his friends were children, romping through the universe like Peter Pan on an awfully big adventure. Torturing them psychologically and dragging them through the mud... to me it felt wrong. I rejected it.
Admittedly Messingham's breaking them up so he can put them back together, their friendship renewed, but I have problems with the corresponding theme of making them grow up in the process. I feel like I've read 200 pages of child abuse. All that pain has a dramatic payoff, yes, but for me the payoff wasn't enough for what went before it.
(Under Hartnell on the other hand, this could have been fantastic. Maturity, grit and psychological intensity go perfectly with the Hartnell era and its regulars, which for depth could almost rival the NAs.)
My other problem is simpler... the book's dull! The one and only interesting character doesn't appear until p175. Messingham has created plenty of unbelievable bastards in the past (Zeta Major, Tomb of Valdemar) and they've always been compelling, but here he's created a world of miserable bastards. I didn't care about any of them. Oh, oh, the Myloki defeated us and we're so fucked up! Whine whine bloody whine. Everything's so pointless and depressing that my ability to care sloped off for a drink after about ten pages. Even the psychological torture of Jamie and Zoe doesn't have the surprise factor that it should, since the monotonous grimness flattens everything out and lends an air of predictability.
The plot's deadlocked. No one has anything to do! The Myloki are unstoppable bad guys and we're so worried that they might return... gee, thrilling. Even if they did return, the Myloki are so unknowably alien that there's nothing Earth could do about it anyway. The enemy aren't a foe so much as a force of nature and they're absent for most of the book anyway. There's no conflict. The characters just wander around being unpleasant to each other... well, for the first 175 pages, anyway. A badass shows up at that point, but don't expect him to make much difference to anything. This ain't that kind of book.
This book's 21st century setting should theoretically add to the Troughton-ness, since so many stories of that era were set around then (The Moonbase, The Enemy of the World, The Wheel in Space, The Seeds of Death and more, if you believe fan historians). It doesn't. This book stinks of Lance Parkin's History of the Universe, wearing its continuity like a hair shirt. Alien Bodies used this era in a playfully creative way, but there's nothing playful about this book whatsoever. The word I'd use is "clumping".
Things pick up in the second half, comparatively speaking, but then fall apart for the climax. What the hell is that ending? I mean, really. Admittedly mankind could never defeat the Myloki in any conventional way, but that's just not dramatic. The 2nd Doctor gets some good moments but some flat chapters, while Jamie and Zoe are explored in some depth but not in a way I wanted to read about. It's a better portrayal of a Troughton-era TARDIS crew than many we've seen, but for me no one's yet nailed the era in anything longer than a short story.
Oh, and apparently there are Gerry Anderson references. Simon Messingham can thank his lucky stars I know nothing about those, or I might have hated this book even more than I do already. I didn't mind the second half of The Indestructible Man, but its first half was just boring and unpleasant. However, ironically, had it starred Hartnell, I might have really liked it.