Sam is Missing
Sam is Missing Part One
|ISBN||0 563 40581 3|
Synopsis: The planet Hirath is being ravaged by colliding time fields, the
controlling computer malfunctioning and the Doctor and Sam separated. But
there are monsters waiting in the wings and the Doctor's time may just
Oh, It's Not a Perfect Day by Daniel Coggins 24/3/98
Last month I would have cheerfully predicted that there would be no really awful BBC Books. We'd had some good ones (Alien Bodies), some not so good ones (The Eight Doctors) and some really controversial ones (War of the Daleks). Then along came The Longest Day. Why did I open my big mouth? The Longest Day is imaginative, original-- but totally and utterly dull and boring. The fact is, its slips. I mean, there is nothing at all compelling about the injustices of a galaxy where the inner planets, ruthlessly subdue the outer planets (probably an attempt at a witty look at Earth). All males have strange eyelashes, and all the females have two tongues. Sam Jones is called a freak because of her single tongue, and everyone goes around cheerfully shooting everyone else. Then entering this "cozy" world come the TARDIS and the Kusks.
The main setting of Dullest Day is Hirath, a world with 'colliding time fields'. It is used as a safe storage area by people with money. And they grow time trees, the totally ridiculous device from Genocide there as well. The Kusks leave a brown, sticky mess everywhere they go and like killing people. They are the victims of a huge interplanetary war that devestated their planet, so they want to get a nice time machine/data collector, which will tell them the best time to invade a planet. Useful and informative amust for all would be galactic conquerors, buy yours today for just 10 billion credits, that's right just-- sorry. The only thing this book does well is get Sam out of the way in time for the next story. Fortunately, the BBC can be forgiven this little mishap thanks to this month's MA, The Witch Hunters....
For Insomniacs Only by Robert Smith? 15/9/98
The worst thing about Longest Day (and believe me, there are a few) is that you can just see the good ideas struggling to get out. Unfortunately, they've been beaten down by sheer lack of talent. Every time there's one thing that looks promising, thirty more come along and render it all worthless. Doctor Who can survive being bad, but it can't survive being boring.
The whole idea of Hirath seems just wrong to me. Why bother dumping your unwanted on a dangerous, unstable, far-away planet that has only a few safe paths when it would be easier to kill them? Furthermore, since the only group on the planet who have any significant contribution to the plot (other than getting themselves gratuitously killed - more on that later) are the rebels, I'm not sure why Collier bothered. It would have been far better to make Hirath a hiding place for rebels (this would make sense as the unstable time fields would make pursuit dangerous) and simply have the space station be a small survey base. This would also make more sense since, in best DW tradition, there are only three crewmembers (I can only presume the rest are cardboard cutouts).
On that topic, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that nobody realised the station was three times bigger than it appeared. Surely they'd seen it from the outside, had exterior reports etc? The Doctor wanders back and forth between sections easily enough, so I'm not sure why the others don't.
I think it was Douglas Adamas who said: "Only bad science fiction has unpronouncable character names". I'm sure there's a corollary about boring and unmemorable character names. Every single character on the station or planet is completely forgettable, making you go back again and again to the pages they were introduced to try and work out who is who. After a while, you just stop caring.
The Kusks, at least, are unintentionally amusing. Oddly (but perhaps thankfully, given the above) not a single one of them has a name, so they address each other as "Leader", "Technician" and "Engineer". When the closest comparison you have for an alien race is The Sensorites, you're in big trouble.
The Doctor and Sam work well enough together, so it's a pity this lasts for less than ten pages of the book. At least, I'm assuming all the cliches about the Doctor "frowning as though he had just solved a particularly difficult crossword clue" and Sam staring at a mirror so the author can describe her hair are parodies of the other Eighth Doctor books. Oh and for the second time in two books, the Doctor gets to see Sam in a wet, see-through T-shirt. Fanwank is one thing, but this is getting ridiculous.
Unfortunately, once they split up, things go downhill. The Doctor seems so unconcerned by the crazed Vasid -- the guy who may well have killed Sam for all the Doctor knows -- that he befriends him and gets him to help out and pass tools until he can be conveniently killed. Excuse me?
Sam gets stranded on the planet of gratuitous death, but tragically she makes it off alive. The only explanation I can think of for the gratuitous and unnecessary deaths of just about everyone is that Collier was as underwhelmed by his characaters as I was and decided to kill them in the most graphic way possible. I can handle graphic if it has a point or if it's done so well that my skin crawls. Here, it has no point at all other than to push up the page count a bit and is written with such tedium that I was ready to stick a fork in my own eyeballs, just for want of something interesting to happen.
Here's an example of how stupid things become: Sam's love-interest, one of the few characters who almost seems realistic, suddenly decides that he's a sadistic killer and really likes that sort of thing (and guess what? This means Sam is faced with a Difficult Moral Choice [tm]). Fettal (another sadistic killer, who really enjoys her work) is killed off -- only to return again from the dead so she can conveniently run into our heroes again and get killed off later (oh, and this gives Sam another DMC).
Nashaad turns up out of absolutely nowhere. The Doctor seems to know him, despite admitting that he's never met him. I guess we must have seen him earlier, but for the life of me I can't work out where. Character names boring the reader to death are one thing, but when they start causing gaping plot holes, that's another. Still, it's all right, since he has metal legs.
The whole idea of the sun stopping seems awfully contrived. It's as though Collier wanted to write a book that took place all in one day (I'm guessing he thought of the title before writing the book), but didn't have the skill to do it and so had to invent this. And if entering a time field leaves you permanently changed (like Anstaar, George) then why aren't the Doctor and (more importantly) Sam permanently changed from their experience here since the whole of Hirath is caught in a time field? (How else would the sun have stopped unless time has stopped around Hirath?)
The ending, oddly enough, was the one thing I liked. Aside from the
giggling-schoolboy wet T-shirt scene, there's no real clues that Sam has a
romantic interest in the Doctor, but strangely that doesn't seem to impair
the ending at all (probably because we've seen hints in other books, such
as War of the Daleks). I don't really mind Sam having a crush on the
Doctor so long as
a) he doesn't know about it
b) he doesn't reciprocate, and
c) the TARDIS crew doesn't become a daytime soap opera.
Given the lack of subtleties in the Eighth Doctor line thus far, however, I'm not convinced we won't get any or all of these.
In summary: don't bother. Go to the bookstore and read the last six pages and you'll have everything you need to go on with the next book. Buy this only if you're a completist and read this only if you're an incurable insomniac.
A Review by Leo Vance 7/11/98
Micheal Collier's debut.... Generally debuts seem to be a demonstration which will either never be bettered, or the writer will never be as bad again.
Longest Day is a perfect example of good Doctor Who. Its got a race of monsters (the Kusks) who call their leader 'Leader' and their technician 'Technician' (step forwards the Cybermen, the Daleks and the Original Sea Devils). They work, primarily because they are well thought-out monsters, who simply don't offer their names (a bit like the Doctor, really).
Sam is competently done here, something not many authors can claim to achieve. She has a love interest other than the Doctor, but also claims to love the Doctor, and this seems to provide real motivation for the character. The McGann Doctor really is becoming a book creature, like McCoy's did at Virgin, so comparisons to TV are pointless. On the other hand, it has to be said, he's done well enough here.
The supporting cast, unfortunately, are rather forgettable. These include Sam's girlfriend, a corrupt Government official, a rebel leader, and a friend of Sam's who leaves her in the lurch at the end.
The plot and prose both work reasonably. That is to say, they're closer to being good than bad, but really nothing to write home about.
An entertaining and effective return to excellent and simplistic action adventures under BBC Books with War of the Daleks is continued here. 7/10
A Review by Finn Clark 30/1/99
Longest Day is much worse than it should be. The plot is simple and straightforward -- perhaps even a little too much so. I started getting Wheel in Space (episode one) flashbacks during the first sixty pages. Certainly, on the face of it, there seems to be little reason why so many people have found it such heavy going.
One reason could be the crap names: Vasid, Vost, Taaln, Yast, Elb, Hirath, Ipmuss, Anstaar, Sornaath, Dwynaar, Maadip, Felbaac, Tanhith (confusingly, male)... Michael Collier is on drugs if he thinks his readers won't have trouble keeping track of all those. In fact, the (extreme) simplicity of his plot helps us along, but it's still hard work.
Then, we have the unfortunate fact that we're not even remotely interested in most of these people. The main character for the first sixty pages, Vasid, is much like Rimmer, but without the wit and charisma. The rebels trapped on Hirath are largely self-obsessed toerags whose fate doesn't interest you at all. And until the stormtroopers arrive, the rebels' chapters are also completely pointless. When reading these sections, don't try to make sense of them. Skip through them. Very fast. Trust me on this. You won't miss anything.
Fortunately, things improve (slightly) as the book continues. The Kusks are reassuringly ultra-traditional psychotic kill-them-all "huge bastards with big teeth" alien monsters. At least it's interesting with them around. And High Commissioner Sangton is cool. He's such a cheerfully cynical bloodthirsty git that you warm to him immediately; I wanted to read more of this man. However, the temporal chaos on the planet's surface is extremely forgettable (as with the Generic Virgin Book I mentioned above, I couldn't be bothered to work this out; life's too short.) Things needn't have been like this. In synopsis, the book is a whole lot more interesting than in its completed version.
And finally we proceed to the Doctor and Sam. They're good. We even get real (albeit one-sided) sexual tension between them at the start, which is something that's never been done before like this. A first for Michael Collier... and now, please, could it be a last? It grabs the attention, but while Sam's in sexual fantasy mode, she and the Doctor have no rapport, no mutual understanding and don't work together. It could have got a bit much even here, but Michael Collier quickly separates them. I'm still unsure about whether this is a good thing or not. On reflection it's probably wise, as we certainly wouldn't go on reading if the Doctor or Sam weren't there to keep our attention. It's a terrible thing to say, but Samantha Jones is far more interesting and sympathetic than Michael Collier's original creations...
Oh, and that scene in which Sam "realises" that her nightdress (a T-shirt) has got soaking wet in front of the Doctor... It worked in Option Lock, but putting it in two books in a row is pushing your luck. Sam wouldn't "realise". After the first time, it would be deliberate. And if you're going to insert dirty old man scenes starring Sam (she also flashes her breasts in a sandstorm later) then for crying out loud, tell the reader how big her breasts are! Some of us readers try to visualise what's going on, you know...
Overall, the book is clumsy. There are nice bits (the Doctor's James Bond chase in a Beetle) and clever lines (here and there), but an awful lot is just not covered properly. We read the phrase "one of her tongues" on page 40 and think, "Where did that come from?"
To demonstrate Longest Day's missed potential, reread pages 132-135. Rubbish, isn't it? But just think what, in other hands, that scene could have been...
A Review by Sean Gaffney 27/11/99
It's hard to pin down what's wrong with Longest Day. The plot is actually very clever, and the Doctor and Sam are VERY well written. Let me go through my usual round up to see if I can get a sense as to why this book failed for me.
PLOT: Rather complex, and at times I did have trouble keeping track of it. I think this was more the fault of the pacing than the plot, though. The plot was pretty interesting in and of itself.
THE DOCTOR: Very well done, perhaps the best I've read so far. Michael Collier really manages to capture the present tense-ness of the Doctor, his sheer living in the moment. He also gets some primo angst time as well, but it doesn't look out of place.
SAM: Also well-done, though a bit wearying. Watching Sam going through her life-lessons had a tendency to exhaust me while I was reading it, and while I sympathised with her, I wish she could have developed a bit quicker. ^_^
VILLAINS: Um...choose one from the hat, really. Felbaac was an utterly irritating git, Sangton was a sadistic dull git, and the Kusks were just kinda there. I did like the Kusk leader, though.
OTHERS: Anstaar worked best, perhaps. Tanhith was all right, and his comment about Sam falling for an ideal man was good, if perhaps beating the point over the head. The others were cannon fodder.
STYLE: Ah, now we get to the sticking point. It took me three weeks to finish this book. Events move fast, and you get the sense of things happening quickly. Nonetheless, this book crawled. It was one of those books where every ten pages you check to see how many pages you have till the end. The combination of fast-moving events and slow-moving prose nearly did me in. Another problem was the fact that this book was very wearying. The characters suffer through one indignity after another, and by the end of the book I'd gotten to the point where I didn't care.
OVERALL: Michael Collier has a nice sense for character and some interesting ideas, but his prose style definitely needs work. This book, considering how fast-moving the plot was, should have rocketed along. Instead, it moved like a turtle. Nevertheless, it shows nice promise, and I look forward to his next one. However...
A Review by Tom Wilton 26/4/00
I feel like everything that is ever going to be said about this book has already been said. It feels almost cruel to wade in and add my own views, and so I'm going to make this as quick as possible.
Basically, this book is flawed. It has huge flaws which make it incredibly obstructive to even the most dedicated reader. It suffers from some awful characterisation, some clumsy plotting, some dreadful dialogue and some of the worst names ever used in Who fiction. But note I have only said "some" in regards to all of these short comings. I find it incredibly difficult to find no redeeming quality in a novel (add your own War of the Daleks based insult here) and have to admit that I did love the central idea of the novel. The concept of the planet Hirath ravaged by time anomalies could have been brilliant, but was failed in its execution. Unfortunately, because it has already been used, it means we are unlikely to see this idea again (I can hardly see an author pitching 'Longest Day 2: The Return to Hirath", although stranger things have happened).
One last positive comment: I liked the opening scenes on the space station. The Doctor and the paranoid madman in the enclosed setting reminded me of The Edge of Destruction and I would have liked to have seen more of it. Incidentally, I'm still waiting for the full literary equivalent of Serial C. A story set entirely inside the TARDIS with only the Doctor and Sam could have fleshed out their characters completely. Then again, everyone would probably have hated it, wouldn't they?
I thought so.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 24/5/01
The hardest thing about reviewing Longest Day is that by the time I got to the end of the book, I'd already forgotten the events of the first half. There's nothing there to hold the reader's interest through to the end. The plot is about average with one or two bright spots here and there, but any ground made up is swamped by the poor execution.
Pacing, or the lack thereof, is probably the book's worst sin. No tension or excitement is built, things just sort of happen without any rhyme or reason until the end when they just sort of stop happening. The characterization is fairly decent, but the alien names are so confusing and interchangeable, that I reached a point where I stop bothering about trying to keep the characters in mind and just started winging it. This didn't seem to make much of a difference.
The bottom line is that it took me almost three times as long to plow through Longest Day than it has for any other BBC Doctor Who book. It's a long, drawn-out story punctuated by occasional violence (which I didn't find as intrusive or as sickening as other people apparently did). There are some nice touches (such as the Doctor zooming through the corridors of an alien dome in his purple VW Beetle), but the book makes the reader work so hard to get to them that it really isn't worth the effort.
A Review by Brian May 20/1/06
Michael Collier's first effort for the Doctor Who fiction range is a solid and interesting one. Longest Day contains a mix of fascinating science fiction ideas and visceral, uncompromising action. The book's major sci-fi concept is the planet Hirath, split into a multitude of different time zones - Collier manages to achieve the feel of disjointedness such a locale requires, with some fairly straightforward "time lapse" like descriptions of clouds and the sun, but also a variety of bizarre and often startling touches. The fragmented George is perhaps the cleverest, but it's the images witnessed on p.171 that are by far the most disturbing; the same page description of "time's elegant torturing" is exquisite. Overall the writing is good; Collier rarely gets weighed down with excessive detail and there are some fluid, almost evocative depictions. At times the moon base's computer banks and flickering lights come across as haunting; the same goes for the base in darkness, illuminated by the same lights or the reflected hues of Hirath. The descriptions of the Kusks and their ship are more functional, but nevertheless effective. The starkness of the chiefly desert landscape of Hirath is also captured well.
The book suffers from an uneven pace, but it's not as slow or boring as some would have you think, but of course that's a matter of opinion. In my own humble one there's too much time consumed on the base, especially as the Doctor tries to elude the rampaging Kusks. All the moments with the Volkswagen Beetle, both at the beginning but especially the end, are very silly. However all the moments on the surface of Hirath make for taut and tense reading; it's here that the story is at its most gripping. It's a brutal tale of survival at any cost, with some well-portrayed characters.
The desperation of Felbaac is realistically observed, while Tanhith and Yast are similarly well thought out. Collier takes the time to give them convincing backstories while never veering away from the main action too much - the example of Yast is probably the best of these. It's chilling but, given the characters, utterly believable when Tanhith leaves Fettal outside for the Kusks to kill. Tanhith - the nice guy of the bunch and a potential love interest for Sam. The fact that she is witness to this, and her unequivocal horror at the deed, is a great moment. Despite her liberal views she's had a sheltered existence, and events such as this force her to re-evaluate her outlook. She's thrust into a world where life is cheap, although Tanhith's actions are motivated by survival. He's fundamentally a decent man, but in his predicament he cannot afford the luxury of conscience.
Indeed, the whole point of the book is to transform Sam - an idea that's overdue. She's difficult to write for, mainly because she was given no proper "character" when she was created. Although Sam is not that spectacularly realised per se - she still makes the same sarcastic comments, still makes pop culture references and still pines after the Doctor - she's given a tumultuous baptism of fire a badly underwritten figure like herself needs. The moment when Sangton orders her to beat Tanhith and Yast to death, or he will kill the remaining prisoners, is chilling to the core.
It's perhaps the best example of the uncompromising grittiness of the tale. Like The Caves of Androzani or Survival, it's unremitting and somewhat exhausting. It's full of amoral people, all out for themselves. As mentioned, even men like Tanhith make Darwinian choices. The story behind the scenario, the K'Arme and the repressive regime that dumps its troublemakers on Hirath - a steal from Blake's 7 (Cygnus Alpha) - is a grim and depressing backdrop, which goes far to explain why people such as Felbaac are like they are.
Yes, depressing is the word you can use to describe all of Longest Day. It's violent, but it's not an all out splatter- or gore-fest, the exception being the needlessly ghoulish discovery of Vost's body. The combination of hard action and hard sci-fi achieves a good balance. The author has an excellent grasp of creating tension, atmosphere and bleakness, and can write believable characters. Anstaar's not particularly likeable, but she makes a passable companion substitute. Individuals like Yast, Felbaac and the sleazy, self-pitying alcoholic Vasid are all given realistic motivations for their thoughts and actions, even though they're people you'd never want to meet. This credibility also extends to the Kusks. Although they're a standard, unremarkable race of monsters, Collier takes us into the mind of the leader, giving some empathy as we learn of its motivation.
Longest Day is definitely not on the cheery side, so picking it up for an escapist romp isn't recommended. It's downbeat and violent, but never to an unacceptable level. There's some padding, and chapter 7 receives the "most pretentious chapter title" award, but overall it's a fascinating story and a good debut. 7.5/10