Last Man Running
|ISBN#||0 563 40594 5|
|Continuity||Between The Robots of Death and
The Talons of Weing-Chiang
|Synopsis: Seeking to get away from Leela's constant questions, the Doctor takes the TARDIS to a seemingly quiet planet for a break. However, there he discovers vicious predators on the loose, a crack police squad, and a deadly secret...|
A Review by Dr. Terry Evil 10/4/99
I feel impelled to say straight away that Last Man Running took a mere night to finish. It's a gripper, no question. There's barely an ounce of flab in the entire book; the whole thing seemingly screaming at you as you read, "quick, turn the page, don't you want to know what happens next?" From the moment the Doctor and Leela land on a planet where nature is performing some pretty inexplicable tricks, you are hooked.
The presented relationship between the Doctor and Leela (Boucher's creation, as if you didn't know) is interesting to say the least. What with its position in the general chronology of things, this means that Boucher has now effectively written her first three stories (after Face of Evil and Robots of Death), cementing not only this book's place as a genuine Missing Adventure, but also the character from her creator's point of view.
Accusations that this isn't the Leela we're familiar with just won't wash in this sort of situation. That doesn't matter anyway, as this is possibly the best presentation of Leela yet seen in any medium; unmistakably the cool savage we all know and love, but with a sharp intelligence, honed by the Doctor's inexplicableness. There were hints on-screen of the depths of the relationship between the Time Lord and the savage, but here they are brought into sharp focus by the room that Boucher gives them to breathe in novel format. The gulf between them is marked, with sometimes inexplicable conversations, but these only accentuate those bridges they have; their mutual hatred of unnecessary killing, the feeling they both have that they are looking after the other, the fearlessness in standing up to things which would frighten the pants off other people.
No better are all these things accentuated than in an early scene in which the Doctor is trapped up a tree by a rather large and malevolent louse. Leela tries to kill it, much to the Doctor's annoyance that she's putting herself in unnecessary danger, and he practically sacrifices himself to stop her. It's a beautifully simple scene, with Boucher obeying those tenets of 'show, don't tell' which professional writers hammer on about with good reason. Leela and the Doctor's conversation afterwards is lovingly meaningful:
Last Man Running is class in a glass no doubt about it. It isn't a sequel, it doesn't feature any returning characters, it isn't bogged down with detailed examinations of the central characters until you're sick of the sight of them. It sets up a strong narrative, based, as all the best Doctor Who books do (see the OrmanBlum), around the companion rather than the Doctor, and slowly and relentlessly peels back the layers of its plot in an intelligent way. Welcome back, Mr. Boucher.
A Review by Finn Clark 13/6/99
If the author name on Last Man Running was John Peel or Terrance Dicks, everyone would hate it. Virgin fans would be queueing up with burning torches. It hardly seems enough to call this book "simple" and "straightforward", much as one would feel uneasy describing the heart of a sun as "vaguely warm". Nevertheless, this book is not written by either of those two widely unloved authors. It's written by Chris Boucher and so one finds oneself cutting him more slack. There are good things in this book, but it certainly won't be to everyone's taste.
As for the plot... Back in Virgin's day, it would barely have sufficed for a subplot. (You'd have needed at least one companion stranded on a completely different planet for 200 pages while unintentionally comic Neil Gaiman rip-offs talked to the Doctor in annoying dream sequences). The cast is tiny and the setting stays pretty constant. I could really imagine this on television, where it would work rather well. One or two of the special effects would probably stretch the budget a little, but that's about it. Imagine a Chris Boucher TV story. This is like its novelisation. It's got the right amount of plot for a four-parter. The characterisation and cultural depth is just right for TV requirements. The central puzzle would probably come over better visually, too. If any fan video makers out there are looking for stories to adapt, this would be absolutely ideal.
Unfortunately it's a book. What to say? The cover's good, somehow feeling a little more complicated than just a stock photo and the usual background. Yes, it's TWO stock photos... but it's something you can look at for more than five seconds. Just inside the front cover, the BBC have at last deigned to give us a list of their Doctor Who books published so far, which is a little thing but extremely welcome.
As for the story, it's okay. It's not terrible, but it's not earth-shaking either. It's a quick read, but surprisingly you'll have to do a little work as a reader if you want to get something out of it, since Chris Boucher doesn't give you much help as a novelist. It's not quite a Target novelisation, but it does in places approach a "he said, she said" approach. This is a bit of a shame, since the script being novelised is actually quite good and the characterisation has some nice touches here and there.
If you're prepared to work harder at visualising the regulars than usual, then Chris Boucher gives you a rather good portrayal of them. (If that's not a contradiction in terms). He's unlucky in following Jim Mortimore's truly breathtaking portrayal of Leela in Eye of Heaven, but partly avoids the obvious comparisons by taking a completely different approach to his characterisation. Jim Mortimore shone in getting us inside Leela's head and showing us her worldview. Chris Boucher simply writes her a good script.
Things change towards the end. I'm sorry to say that the climax is confusing. I didn't bother trying to work it out but just read it, while I started to get impatient for things to be wrapped up when there were still a good sixty pages to go. The book's central idea is clever and intriguing, but it's developed only to TV depth rather than novel depth.
In the end, I enjoyed it. It improves in the memory as one thinks about the situations and lets them sink into one's imagination more fully than they could at the time. The mind's eye fills in the details. A reread might be an interesting experience, especially if I took a long, leisurely time over it (or even had someone read it to me). Nevertheless Last Man Running belongs firmly in the traditional camp with Illegal Alien and Catastrophea, rather than the more forward-looking, experimental PDAs like Eye of Heaven and The Witch Hunters.
Last Man Writing by Jason A. Miller 21/6/99
It's very difficult to judge pre-release hype for any sort of Doctor Who novel. Especially in an age when the market is glutted with books, who's to say which book will catch the eye of internet fandom before its release? Chris Boucher's Last Man Running was lucky enough to receive buzz, simply because it was a novel by Chris Boucher, who, after a trio of decent scripts and the creation of Leela, had not written for Doctor Who in 20 years.
The end result is a book that is exactly the sum of its parts. On the surface, the story is identical to Boucher's first story, The Face of Evil. On a studio-bound jungle set, the Doctor, Leela, and a cast of two-and-a-half dimensional humanoids dodge synthetic monsters, before concluding the story in a demi-psychedelic underground complex, where they're menaced by an insane madman.
This recent effort is anomalous in that it's short - a good 30 pages shorter than most other BBC missing adventures. As such, the small supporting cast suffers in comparison. Boucher's used to writing for small expeditions under siege (see The Robots of Death; the scientists in Image of the Fendahl). As before with the small cast size, characters are forced into multiple roles - two of the humanoids will invariably be revealed to be wrapped up in the nefarious scheme (one of them unwittingly), and several have at least two on-screen death scenes.
So, the problem is one of scope. Boucher's not limited to a 1977 television budget, but the story still feels like it's produced under one - the outdoor sets have an indoor feel, and even the extravagance of the (unnamed) planet's underground complex cum Chamber of Horrors screams again of Xoanon, even as Boucher tries to describe occurrences that could never be portrayed on TV.
The plot is mostly competent until the last two chapters, when a murky government conspiracy is revealed, and previously unseen characters jump in and out of the cast to provide the merest hints of a broader cultural scope. The writing is very good; it's mostly dry but leavened by the occasional flash of very real wit. Leela, in only her third Doctor Who novel of the decade, is very well-handled as always - Louise Jameson's subtle, intelligent TV performance is very much in evidence here, and Tom Baker's erratic mid-tenure Doctor is also on display, stealing the show - when he's not busy talking to the camera.
Last Man Running is a good read which is exactly what it sets out to be - a short-length novel which just barely fails its ambitions, while providing a good flavor of its TV vintage. And while those words are ordinarily the kiss of death for any less-hyped book in the series, the presence of Boucher's name gives Last Man Running an authority it would otherwise lack. The series has certainly thrived without him, but after 20 years he hasn't lost a step. The past is celebrated and the present is assured - and that's the best review of all.
Confusion by Robert Thomas 28/8/00
After reading Last Man Running the one thing it left me in was a state of confusion. As if you have read this book you may agree that it is unrepresentative of this range. And I'll say this with no fear of contradiction, it's a little bit strange too.
After hearing that Chris Boucher had written a Doctor Who book I purchased it straight away. As far as I am concerned his TV stories rank among the best and I looked forward to returning to the 4th doctor era for a few hundred pages. Which is exactly what I got.
Boucher wastes no time with a build up or introduction and launches us straight into the story. On first page alone is an impressive Doctor and Leela scene. The pace starts strong and never lets up remaining continuous throughout the book.
The majority of the story is told within the dialogue, not a criticism but I suspect Chris Boucher is just sticking to what he's good at. He also doesn't give us much description about the surroundings. We're on a jungle planet and that's all we need to know. Although when the settings change at about the half way point it requires the reader to work harder than usual to imagine them.
There are few characters and this results in much tension reminiscent of Horror of Fang Rock. There is background given to their alien nature but not enough. The only small gripe I have with this is with such little background its hard to understand the end which is very political - at least that's the impression I got.
The ending which is not only political but confusing is the major let down of the book. The story starts strong and builds up to a conclusion that just doesn't happen. The ending itself is out of place and feels like it ends at the half way stage. I smell a sequel in the works.
If you just want to be returned to the 14th season this is definitely for you. Just don't think to much about the plot. Personally while I read this I couldn't work out if I was too stubborn to put the book down until finished or if I was enthralled by such a good book. After reading, this book spent some time in my pile to give to the local church sale. But at the last moment I took it off at put it back on my shelf.
Do I like this book or do I hate it? I just don't know.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 12/9/00
So Chris Boucher has decided to write for the Fourth Doctor and Leela. No surprises there then but is Last Man Running much cop?
PLOT: Trying to escape Leela`s questions, The Doctor looks for a holiday, but the TARDIS arrives on a hostile planet with predators and secrets galore. In short somewhat simplistic and not much of a challenge.
THE DOCTOR: Virtually unrecognisable in the early going, but he does get better, although it is never really hammered home.
COMPANION: Leela is a great success, helped largely by the jungle environment of the planet.
OTHERS: Difficult to recognise; they`re very similair, come across as unsympathetic. You really need to make notes of who is who.
OVERALL: It certainly feels indicative of it`s era and the interaction between the regulars is spot on, even if the characterisation is below par. Nothing is ever perfect though, and by the standards of previous PDAs, this is disappointing. 4/10.
A Review by Brian May 2/2/05
Well, that was disappointing.
The prospect of a fourth Doctor/Leela adventure written by Chris Boucher had me slavering with anticipation. After all, Boucher's three television scripts for Doctor Who featured this TARDIS crew, and all three are wonderful stories. Given that he's on familiar ground, Last Man Running is something of a letdown.
Don't get me wrong - it's not terrible. I'm certainly not going to throw it across a room or a crowded train, or shortlist it for the title of "worst Doctor Who novel ever". No, it's just that it's all a bit boring and unrivetting - the first half especially so. And just who is that tall, curly haired, strangely dressed man that steps out of the TARDIS? It's certainly not the fourth Doctor! Nothing he says can I imagine coming from the mouth of Tom Baker; most of the Doctor's dialogue is so uncharacteristic - and just downright wrong - it's irritating and sometimes frustrating to read; scenes like him being forced up a tree by the giant louse just don't ring true. And anyway, this whole scene is terribly unengaging.
This applies for most of the action scenes, unfortunately. The central set piece, the battle with the multi-tongued aquatic monster at the pool, is, quite frankly, tedious. The one exception is the fight between Leela and the three humanoid warriors - this is very good. Apart from this however, none of the other moments during the first half of the novel enthral the reader. The guest characters are all bland - not one of them is remotely interesting. Despite the author's best intentions to flesh some of them out, for example the relationship between Pertanor and Rinandor, they never succeed in being anything more than two-dimensional. The class differences don't create the intended tension either, and Boucher overemphasises the fact that they're cynical mercenaries and crude grunts.
Last Man Running is definitely a story of two halves, and mercifully, the second half is better than the first. Relatively speaking, that's not saying much, but there are certain moments to enjoy. The sudden shift to the centre of the planet is disorientating, providing some nice psychedelic touches, such as the bizarre interrogations and the mind-bending layout of the chambers. The trapped TARDIS slowly moving in an eddy and the guiding flashes of light that move through the tunnel floors are fascinating images. And, thankfully, the Doctor is a lot more recognisable in this part of the story! Unfortunately, much of the second half suffers because it's dependent on many of the bland characters above. The identity of their adversary is thus compromised - Boucher throws in a red herring before revealing a final twist, but the unmasking is not the denouement it's supposed to be, for the main fact that the characters in question are just as boring as they were before. The author wants the reader to be shocked and exclaim: "Oh, so it was them!!!!", but the reader really couldn't care less.
To give Chris Boucher his due, the overall concept behind the story is interesting, but that's not much of a consolation when the execution is poor. The explanations are, for the most part, half-hearted and confusing. The revelation of the Empire of the Lentic is similarly dull; Boucher dredges up a science-fiction clich?- the ancient civilisation that caused its own destruction - without adding anything to make the concept fresh. The final twenty or so pages are an uncomfortable combination of technobabble laden pseudo-science and gung-ho action. His attempts to place things in a wider context are similarly unsuccessful. We get glimpses of the society Kley and her troops come from, but they're teasingly quick, and the suggestions of a grand conspiracy are likewise fleeting. Much of the scenario is derivative of Boucher's other work - the structure of the adventure brings to mind The Face of Evil - first half in the outdoor/jungle setting, while the second takes place in a series of bizarre corridors. The class divided society of firsters and toodies is like that of The Robots of Death, with its privileged Founding Family members. Boucher also takes concepts from several of his Blake's 7 stories: the weapons development programme echoes, appropriately enough, "Weapon"; the duel between Bardlenor and Gex, peripheral and incidental to the plot, is reminiscent of "Death-Watch". An author taking bits and pieces from their own work is not a cardinal sin; however in this case it seems like an overindulgent pick and mix of concepts.
But the one triumph Boucher achieves in this book is the characterisation of Leela. It's excellent! This should come as no surprise, given that Boucher created her, but what he has "value-added" is remarkable. He portrays Leela as she's meant to be - a warrior. She has a warrior's skill and pragmatism. She thinks and moves like a warrior should. The moments inside her head, as she translates the actions and motivations of those around her, are uncannily brilliant. So too is the way she perceives the Doctor, the TARDIS and everything else to do with her Time Lord companion. The differences between them are effectively highlighted, from both their points of view and in the general narrative. Indeed, her thoughts during the fight scenes in the first half make them somewhat bearable. The fact that her warrior instinct is the catalyst for what happens salvages the lacklustre plot somewhat, but it doesn't save the story as a whole.
This is a real pity, for Last Man Running is a story with great potential. The actual writing itself is pretty good - Boucher adds some nice touches such as shifting to a new paragraph when changing points of view, even if it's the same scene with the same characters. That feature quite impressed me; it proved that Boucher's not simply a scriptwriter - he's also got what it takes to be a novelist. But it's the underdone plot, drawn out action and the dreadful characters - with the exception of Leela, who shines - that are his real failings. 3/10
Survival of the Fittest by Andrew Feryok 24/7/13
"The Doctor liked to believe that his attitude to dress was one of lofty indifference; he was altogether too busy thinking serious thoughts to be concerned with what he was wearing. When Leela pointed out that the long coat was cumbersome if you needed to run, the long scarf would get in the way if you needed to fight, and the hat was ridiculous on top of all that curly hair he maintained a calm dignity and pointed out that rational beings should seldom run and never fight, and that hats were supposed to be ridiculous."
- The Doctor and Leela arguing over each others outfits, Chapter 1, Page 6
I original read this book when I was in high school and I remember having very positive memories of this story. My memories included the Doctor and Leela with an out-of-their-depth space marine party in a hostile jungle environment, and a second half of the story where they wandered around an advanced underground complex. However, the details of the story had long since been forgotten.
Having returned to this story after almost ten years, I find it not as compelling as when I first read it. In fact, I found myself liking the jungle segments more than the underground sections this time. It's also now blatantly obvious that Chris Boucher ripped his story off of The War Games. Instead of multiple time zones, we have multiple topographical environments. The goal is ultimately the same though: lure people into a twisted survival-of-the-fittest virtual scenario, let them fight to the death and use the survivors to create a super army. The second half of the book then becomes more of a rip off of his own The Face of Evil with an advanced alien complex ruled over by a mad computer (although in this case it was a mad man controlling a super computer). So in the broad sense, this isn't a terribly original story, but where this story soars are in the details.
Chris Boucher does a particularly fantastic job of recreating the Doctor and Leela. In fact, the Doctor takes a largely background role to the story with Leela acting more as the out-and-out hero. The first half of the book is utterly fascinating as we see her study in detail each monstrous threat thrown at them, analyzing strengths, weaknesses and strategies, and then pulling off a brilliant strategy to bring down her enemy. She is definitely in her element and in some ways comes across as smarter than the Doctor who often finds himself in over his head with the monsters. But the Doctor is still his quirky self and is allowed a marvelous final confrontation with the villain in which he doesn't do anything but outwait him.
I also love the alien society that Chris Boucher weaves here. An empire which outsources its defense systems who are then burdened with budgets when putting together personnel, provisions and weaponry for their missions. Given today's economic climate and obsession with budget cuts, this makes this society more relevant than when it was first written! There is also an interesting development regarding "firsters" and "toodies" and the racial bigotry between the groups, as well as a totally alien sense of beauty and sex appeal in which being fat is considered better. It's also a society of gladiatorial games and it's hilarious to see the Doctor and Leela passing themselves off as a trainer and his slave gladiator.
However, the story does have its drawbacks. For one thing, the OIG team is a hard group to like. They are completely incompetent at their jobs and the attempts to write romance seem like they were written by high school boys full of hormones since there is no subtly to any of the innuendo or lust going on between the team, and it sometimes jars with the frightening tone of the story. The ending also got very dull and I found myself having to push myself to finish the book. In particular I think Boucher overdid the whole "the villain was really a duplicate, here is the real villain" routine. I mean, one of the big complaints about Timelash is the fact that the Borad comes out of nowhere at the very end claiming that they only killed his duplicate. This seemed pretty absurd, and Boucher ends up doing it four times in a row! First the villain is Monley. Then it turns out Monley is a duplicate and the real Monley steps forward. Then it turns out they are both duplicates and Sozerdor is behind it. Then it turns out Sozeredor is a duplicate and the real Sozerdor then shows himself. After a while, I just stopped caring about the villain or his plans since every time you think you got a handle on it, Boucher would reveal that to be a lie.
On the whole, though, this is still a well-written and exciting traditional Doctor Who story. It may not be highly original and has some problems with its characters and ending, but still Chris Boucher makes a fine debut as a writer in the book series. He writes a solid Fourth Doctor story and brings Leela brilliantly to life, which shouldn't be surprising since he invented the character all those long years ago. Let's just hope that his next book is a little more original in the plot department. 7/10