Loving the Alien
|Authors||Mike Tucker & Robert Perry|
|ISBN#||0 563 538?? ?|
|Featuring||The seventh Doctor and Ace|
|Synopsis: Ace is dead. Or at least she will be - soon... In a secret room deep inside the TARDIS the Doctor has been examining the body of Ace's future self. He now knows how she was killed, where she was killed and when she was killed. What he doesn't know is why...|
A Review by Finn Clark 12/6/03
I found it! I found it! I had to visit Tottenham Court Road, but I've finally hunted down a copy of Loving the Alien. So what did I think?
I've often thought Mike Tucker and Robert Perry were underrated (except by DWM's polls). On their own pulpy terms I really liked Storm Harvest and Prime Time, while they wrote a short story for Virgin's Decalog 2 collection (Question Mark Pyjamas) that's nearly as brilliant as Steven Moffat's Continuity Errors. Admittedly their first two PDAs were bad, but not full-blown "we need to have a rant now" bad. Illegal Alien was a bit bleah and Matrix wallowed in all the worst NA cliches while also being a confusing alternate-universe unreality, but I've read worse.
Loving the Alien apparently concludes a six-book story arc comprising Paul Dale Smith's Heritage and the other four Perry/Tucker PDAs (plus their Short Trips stories Stop the Pigeon and Ace of Hearts), but to be honest it's mostly a sequel to Illegal Alien. I'll begin by listing the things I liked about it.
The book's last third is enjoyable if you unplug your brain, and there's a good line on page 216.
That was quick! Okay, let's get on with the rest of the review.
First up, it's another alternate universe story! What did we do to deserve this? Just when we're suffering deep hurting from the 8DAs' Alternate Universe arc, we reach for the PDAs and get more of the same! It's probably bad form to criticise books based on what's going on around them (see my recent reassessment of Unnatural History) but this is just bizarre. Loving the Alien's multiverse cosmology isn't even compatible with the current 8DAs' version! It's understandable though annoying that Perry & Tucker were allowed to contradict the likes of Blood Heat and Genocide... but Time Zero? One would normally expect some semblance of coherence in books being published alongside each other. (Personally I've decided that Loving the Alien's Doctor was lying throughout.)
Oh, but it gets better. This isn't just an alternate universe story - it's an infinite alternate universes story, based on the supposition that there's a universe for everything that could possibly happen to anyone, thus rendering our heroes' struggles insignificant. What's more, missing characters can be replaced by their parallel-Earth equivalents, though this presumably inflicts an unexplained disappearance on some other poor bastards. It's the SF equivalent of "I woke up and it was all a dream". What's more, since our universe is one of uncountable multitudes rather than being in any way important, there's no reason to regard what happens here (as opposed to elsewhere) as significant.
There are a thousand reasons to hate parallel universe stories, but Loving the Alien creates another! If your plot concerns big reality-bending notions, then any poor ordinary Joes will be kinda lost in it. More precisely, they're likely to spend two-thirds of the book running around with nothing to do and looking like losers. Like in here, for instance. You know you have a problem when your book IMPROVES for its alternate universe scenes. (I was actually mildly interested in learning about the place, since it falls into none of the usual stereotyped categories but has instead a more subtle, insidious wrongness.)
That squishing sound you hear is the noise my brain makes as it tries to escape through my left nostril. Let's move on.
I liked the opening chapter. That's good stuff, a bit like Ambassadors of Death or Quatermass, though it's annoying that the hat is tipped by naming a character Colonel Kneale. Unfortunately things go downhill thereafter. Characters return from Illegal Alien, none of whom are really worth our time. Cody McBride continues to remind me of Terrance Dicks's Dekker (see Players and Blood Harvest) while being less fun to read about, though in fairness his relationship with Mullen did end up going somewhere nice. (Mind you I didn't remember Mullen at all, despite rereading Illegal Alien only last year.)
Of the original characters... Rita is dull. Collins is dull. Crawhammer's dull. The commie-obsessed Americans come across as actively stupid. No one looks likely to make any real impact on the plot, so no one grab your attention. Rita comes nearest, being the viewpoint character of that aforementioned good Chapter One and later on seeing some weird stuff, but she's basically damsel-in-distress material.
But what about the regulars? Mike Tucker & Robert Perry always gave us lively TV-era pastiches of Sylvester and Sophie, didn't they? Here I thought their portrayals were faithful - but not in a good way. Ace has always tended to be a bit thick and here she's as annoying as she's ever been. She takes the hump at the Doctor (again) and flounces off in a huff (again). This may be an accurate portrayal of the character, but it left me actively wanting her dead. I'm imagining their life aboard the TARDIS... "Professor, you cooked me three slices of toast instead of two! How could you do that? I'll never trust you again! Land somewhere so I can drop out of the plot for half the book and have sex with someone I've only just met!"
However the 7th Doctor's pretty good and it's far more his book than Ace's. He's not "Gareth Roberts writing Season Seventeen Tom Baker" good, but he does everything that's asked of him and has some emotional moments courtesy of that teaser left dangling at the end of Prime Time. I'm a bit disappointed that they didn't tie that into Ground Zero, mind you. (One wonders whether the Doctor couldn't have short-circuited the plot by telling Ace everything and suggesting that she not get a tattoo, etc., but the book has a theme of fate and destiny which suggests it may not have been that simple.)
Did I mention that this is an alternate universe story? I'll probably be bringing that up once or twice.
However things pick up for the book's last third. Stuff happens, often silly but still giving our characters opportunities to make a difference. I liked the goofy B-movie monsters. The villain comes onstage and for the first time we actually have an interesting character to read about. There's a huge info-dump where he tells the Doctor his evil plan... and yet that plan is so huge and insane that this exposition is the book's most entertaining sequence. Most of Loving the Alien didn't connect with me emotionally, but this last third builds momentum by continually topping itself with more action sequences and surreal plot twists. This is the kind of thing that I enjoyed in Storm Harvest and Prime Time. It's not deep or meaningful, but it's good straightforward fun and I happen to think Perry & Tucker are rather good at it. Offhand I can't think of any Who authors better suited for this kind of breathless pulp adventure.
Vasser Dust seemed unnecessary to me, though. It seems odd that we've never seen it before and the plot could have got by quite happily without it.
Oh, and did I forget to say that this is an alternate universe story?
[Though in fairness it's less so than you'd think from my banging on about it, since the authors sensibly keep such nonsense offstage for quite a while. There's also a theme of fate and destiny, which seems a weird mix with alternate universes but at least rings the changes on what we're used to.]
The fifties-ness was a bit disappointing. The book's full of imagery from that decade's cinema - sci-fi B-movies, a certain actor, etc. which is quite interesting - but I didn't feel that the historical period was strongly evoked. Illegal Alien captured its wartime era better than Loving the Alien captures 1959... which I felt was a particular shame since the fifties are relatively unexplored territory for Doctor Who. We've seen WWII ad nauseum and plenty from 1963 onwards, but from the fifties I can only think of Delta and the Bannermen, First Frontier, Bad Therapy and Endgame.
Overall, I didn't like this book. Most of it was a struggle, though I started enjoying myself towards the end. What's more, I'm starting to think that the 7th Doctor and Ace may have been mined out. They got done to death in the Virgin NAs and now we're churning over the same ground under BBC Books. Next month's Colony of Lies will be the tenth 7th Doctor and Ace PDA, making it the equivalent of Deceit from Virgin's run and a third of the way to Set Piece. Give us McCoy and Mel novels! (Or even McCoy and Frobisher... they didn't travel together long, but we saw them together in A Cold Day in Hell (DWM 130-133) and it's a perfectly legitimate combination.)
A Review by Henry Potts 11/7/03
Not only did Mike Tucker and Robert Perry choose to give Ace a different surname than in the New Adventures, they have now written an entire book to explain the contradiction they caused. Along the way, Ace gets pregnant by the actor James Dean, shot dead and then re-appears as a sixty foot woman. No, I'm not making this up.
It's often a bad sign when authors feel a need to proffer a sequel to an earlier book of theirs that the rest of us have forgotten. Does anyone remember getting to the end of Illegal Alien and thinking, "Heavens, this book desperately needs a sequel!" Well, if you did, it's here. Tucker and Perry do their damnedest to give the impression that George Limb, the villain in both books, is one of the Doctor's greatest ever foes, but having the Doctor saying Limb is one of his greatest ever foes is not half as persuasive as a convincing story that demonstrates Limb's genius... which we don't get here.
Loving the Alien has the most preposterous, needlessly convoluted and ill-considered story in a Who novel for a long time, a feat given some of the nonsense published this year. If I'm not damning with faint praise, Tucker and Perry's prose has improved greatly since the likes of Matrix, yet their storytelling is mired in the same problems: intricate but pointless stories built on shock value and continuity references. The plot circumlocutions force Tucker and Perry into clumsy expositional passages (that beginning chapter 9 being particularly painful) and implausible coincidences (the Doctor finding Rita on p. 230 stands out). The story is for the sake of a story: there is none of the thematic base we saw in the previous 7th Doctor/Ace PDA Heritage.
The book begins promisingly enough. In the early chapters, each time I picked Loving the Alien up, the characterisation of the Doctor and Ace would draw me in, but every time the story would push me away again. However, by page 95, the whole thing had ceased to maintain any dramatic tension, it was all so silly. Let's consider some of the nonsense that ensues.
Character motivation is all over the place, driven by the demands of the story. Collins in chapter 8 and O'Brien in chapter 9 are bizarrely trusting of the Doctor. There is little sense of why Ace should fall in love with Jimmy (James Dean from a parallel universe - don't ask me why), although there are some touching scenes between them. What Jimmy feels for Ace is a mystery: he's happy to get a tattoo to show their eternal love and happy the next day to beat her to a bloody pulp as he's thought all along that she's a Communist spy. And why is Jimmy so incompetent as not to tell Limb that McBride is in the Cyber-gorillas' cage, thus facilitating McBride's escape on p. 142?
The real James Dean died in a car crash. Jimmy in Loving the Alien was spared that fate, but dies in a car crash heroically trying to save the universe at the end of the book, which is a nice symbolism, but his character motivation is that we discover the dead Ace was pregnant with his daughter. Tucker and Perry seem to just throw ideas in willy-nilly. For starters, Tucker and Perry need some sex education: Ace was shot only hours after intercourse, whereas conception only happens later. Jimmy's sperm may have been swimming in the right direction, but Ace cannot have been pregnant when shot. Reproductive biology aside, the drama is terrible. The whole pregnancy thing just appears out of nowhere and is then forgotten straight after.
However, the big, big problem in Loving the Alien is with parallel universes, which is funny because the big problem in the 8DAs at the moment is with parallel universes. Parallel universe stories are hard to do right: why did Justin Richards think it was a good idea to commission a parallel universe PDA in the middle of a bunch of parallel universe 8DAs? I wish I lived in a parallel universe where BBC Books never commissioned parallel universe stories.
It seems especially careless for the Doctor to espouse a metaphysics of parallel universes on p. 111 of Loving the Alien that seems entirely at odds with that in Time Zero through to Reckless Engineering (and many an earlier 8DA too, e.g. Genocide).
Ace... o, Ace, what did you do to deserve so many deaths devoid of drama or pathos. Ground Zero was bad enough, but here Ace gets shot dead midway through the book in a scene that would have more weight if it wasn't preceded by gibberish. The Doctor has her corpse at the beginning of the book, tying in with the end of Prime Time, and the book does begin with a certain sense of foreboding as we wonder what will happen to Ace and how Tucker and Perry are going to solve the conundrum. The answer: random nonsense. Giant ants (from a parallel universe with a different scale, you see) crop up mysteriously throughout the book. An invasion of giant ants in the middle of a fight scene between the invading Cyber-augmented Imperial troops and the plucky British defenders gets quite exciting... and then a giant Ace (proportional to the giant ants, you see) turns up and rescues the good guys. That's it. Kill one Ace, get another. Fortunately the giant Ace shrinks back to normal size (you know, because) and the Doctor explains: 'She remembers everything - or she thinks she does. As far as she's concerned, nothing has happened. She is Ace. The only Ace. To all intents and purposes she is the same Ace that she was before, barring one or two small details. She doesn't have a tattoo saying "Ace and Jimmy" on her back, she doesn't like peas and she has trouble remembering what her correct surname is...'
Lance Parkin wrote a whole book, The Infinity Doctors, about why alternate timelines are dramatically unsatisfying. Weren't Tucker and Perry paying attention? How much more can you undermine any drama if you just get a copy of someone when they die and everything's alright. As far as I can make out from the text, giant Ace is an Ace from a parallel universe and our Ace is still dead. Presumably some poor parallel Doctor is distraught at having lost Ace now!
It seems Mike Tucker, at least at some point, intended for the explanation to be that our Ace was somehow split into two timelines, one of whom gets shot and the other doesn't. It's this second Ace who then re-appears at the end, so it's not a parallel universe Ace, but really is our Ace, sort of... No, I don't understand it either and I can see nothing to that effect in the finished novel.
Loving the Alien has a developed theory of fate, that Limb cannot escape his (to become Cyberneticised) however much he tries to alter history. And the Doctor's solution? To encourage him to commit suicide. (Why that should work when nothing else does is unclear.) Not quite what I would call a Doctor-ish approach, 'never cruel nor cowardly'. This idea of fate, tying in also with Jimmy's fate to die in a car crash, has potential but is of course contradicted by Ace being alive at the end of the book and also rather robs the drama of free will. The Doctor also seems relatively unconcerned for fate of the parallel universe on p. 268, quite casual about how they'll cope with a nuclear strike and a fate of all turning into Cybermen.
The desire to have Ace's surname to be Gale, the name planned but never used on the TV series, rather than McShane, as in the New Adventures, always seemed pointless and petty. Tucker and Perry seem to want to make Ace their own, to control this era of Who. And they do a damn fine Ace and 7th Doc, but they have picked some tough competition. They could have picked on Liz Shaw and then all they would need to do is write a better book than The Wages of Sin, but instead they go up against the likes of Aaronovitch, Cartmel and Cornell. Mike, Robert, if you are out there, you ain't coming close. Loving the Alien is all overly familiar too: British Rocket Group, altered timelines, people abusing leftover Cyber-technology, distrust between the Doctor and Ace. This territory has been covered thoroughly already, most of it's in No Future!
Tucker and Perry do have some good ideas of their own. At least they give us an interesting alternative timeline, much better than the one in The Domino Effect. There is some good imagery here. The Cyber-gorillas are chilling and there is a nice contrast when someone in the Cyber-augmented parallel London calls the non-augmented 'monkeys'. Those sections set in the augmented London in chapters 17-19 are among the best in the book. There is some good writing, but there is also some awful writing. It is not just the story that has problems. Look at how the Doctor changes his mind on p. 147-9. Utter cliche. Compare and contrast with how a similar theme was developed in Heritage.
Another terrible example. Dr Hark accompanies the Doctor to St Thomas' hospital on p. 166, the Doctor taciturn. Hark drops him off on p. 167. Having literally just left Hark's company, on p. 168, the Doctor runs around desperate to talk to Hark, only to be told he won't return for an hour or so. Further down that same page, minutes later, Hark is back. Why? What is the point of any of that?
A strong grasp of Ace and the 7th Doctor, some good ideas and imagery... The ingredients are there, but with an overblown story, Tucker and Perry have overreached themselves. And all for the want of a bad "Wizard of Oz" reference.
Ding Dong the witch is dead! by Joe Ford 27/7/03
YEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Why did nobody ever think of this before? You know and I know that the back stabbing, angst ridden, gun toting, swearing bitch of a woman who plauged the New Adventures wasn't really Ace. Or at least nothing like the compelling Ace that appeared on telly. Could you imagine if all those NA's had been made on telly? Oh gee, Benny pissed, the Doctor manipulating and Ace with a grudge against EVERYONE... and nobody ever getting on! It would be as unbearable as the similar fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough line up. SO why hasn't an author ever thought up a reason as to why she was so horrible, so mean, so... different.
Well now somebody has and I'm glad. The solutions are all very satisfying, particularly as they enflamed a huge bitch post over at Outpost Gallifrey where everybody thought it was the worst idea ever. Well to annoy the masses as ever, I think it's fab. A brilliant explanation and the perfect way to annoy all those NA ass kissers.
Unfortunately the rest of the book leaves A LOT to be desired. I tried to like it, really I did but come PART THREE I was struggling to read five minute segments before wanting to put it down. I finally decided I wasn't enjoying it and forced myself to the end wondering what would be the next book I would embark on how much better it would be than this.
Don't get me wrong it wasn't awful like Heritage. It had a plot at least and some definable characters but it was mostly unmemorable and sloppily written. My biggest gripe is one I ranted on about in my review of Heritage (hate to keep bringing it up but its nightmarish prose still haunts me today) and that is the choice of regulars. Who cares about the seventh Doctor and Ace anymore? This is third book to feature this intrepid duo in the past year and a bit and they are grating on the nerves more and more with each new book. Ace had a decent stretch on telly, an overlong stretch in the NA's and she's even got her own little sub series in Big Finish productions. What else is there to say about this character? To invent something new about this woman reeks of desperation and reinvention, its just a waste of schedule space when other Doc/companion line ups need the time and effort to improve their reputation. We are now so bogged down in Ace merchandise I groan everytime I hear the name. A dated eighties companion cannot be dragged into the new millennium successfully, we have far more believable and likeable companions such as Anji and Evelyn to enjoy these days.
I say let Ace die a horrible bloody death and never bring her back!
So the book already has a boring retro feel to it. and to make matters worse we saw the death of Mel in the last seventh Doctor book and now to focus a book on the death of Ace reeks of familiarity and lack of ideas. Admittedly the first part has some enjoyable tense sequences as Ace is manoeuvred into her death quite cleverly and the Doctor's desperation to save her gives it a gripping race against time feel. However the book is full of that Ace angst that ruined so many NA's so her death is undermined by the fact that you actually might be better off if she croaked it.
Also familiar is the use of a parallel universes. Give it a rest Justin, if you're gonna concentrate the 8th Doctor range on this intriguing idea then don't sink both ranges under the same idea. This just feels like the same plod we've had in the past two 8th Doctor books, at least they were well written and exciting, this is just laden with a thousand sub plots and a million more characters that it is difficult to keep track of anything.
You've got the Doc and Ace, Rita, McBride, Dumnot-Smith, Mullen, Collins, O'Brien, Crawhammer, Drakefell, Jimmy, Hopkins... and you have to concentrate on them all throughout the book. I prefer a tight nit, well realised cast over a crowded two dimensional bunch. Each of these characters gets pushed into the sidelines for ages whilst the others are dealt with and then they just pop up again. The continuity and pace of the book is constantly disrupted by so many people hogging the limelight.
And not only that the themes of the book are dealt with badly. Ace croaks it but we hardly get to see the Doctor's reaction. Given his frantic attempts to intervene I would have thought he would have been more horrified at the outcome. But he just pushes on with the story with little acknowledgement to her death. The whole parallel universe thing is so complicatedly tied up with details surrounding Perry and Tucker's prelude book that I kept losing track of who did what and when to make things so bad. The plotting fails too, gathering no momentum just throwing in a series of apparantly random set pieces hoping you'll go "ooh that was good" and forget it afterwards. The killer ants plotline is conveniently forgotten for AGES and then from nowhere is suddenly relevant again.
The prose needs work too. I'm one of those people who hasn't had a great deal of time for this writing duo in the past so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I could tell when different bits were written because their writing voices are entirely different. There are lots of dialogue heavy scenes interspersed with chunky exposition scenes and the two don't gel well together. There were some nice descriptions in the book and some of the passages appealed but it just felt so choppy.
This is the first BBC book in ages (except for Heritage) that I could not really recommend to you guys (and gals!!!). It's not actively bad by a long shot, it rambles along to its conclusion with a few nice bumps, some of the action scenes are quite effective (the cyber-chimps were pretty cool) but on the whole it was so average, so traditional, so familiar I just could not get to grips with it.
Let's call it lacklustre.
Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 30/10/03
Are you Loving the Alien? 'Cos I'm not. (Okay, an obvious joke, but what the hey...)
This is it, folks, the culmination of pretty much every Seventh Doctor and Ace book the BBC run has had. And we know this because of all the helpful footnotes that point to previous books, most of which have authors in common with this one (in fact, the only one mentioned that Mike Tucker wasn't overtly involved with was Heritage). Still, if you are writing your own arc, you can expect continuity references to what you've done.
But what this really is is a sequel to Illegal Alien. Which is a kind of a shame because that book bored me, and this one didn't do any better. Re-occurring characters I could barely remember and cared less about return, as well as a whole bunch of new people to annoy us. I guess at some point someone will have to read the entire arc to see how well it all plays out, but it won't be me any time soon.
So, what do I really think? The story is boring. There's no other way of putting it. At least the pages flow easily by so even the padding doesn't take up too much time to get through. Reality is under threat of other realities (yawn) and Ace's very life is sacrificed as a pawn in the game between the two major players... ugh. I knew there were two obvious ways around this problem, and, yep, Tucker and Perry take one of them (and give yet another dig at Ace's last name). The problem with having those kinds of answers available kind of tend to lessen the impact of events. 'Oh dear, something drastic happened? Never mind, just wait for the end to turn up with its obvious solution.' (And, by the way, one foot ants aren't giants. Any B-movie aficionado can tell you they need to be the size of houses first.)
On to the characters involved. Ace is made to be annoyed with the Doctor so that the major event of the book can happen. Would that really happen? The only answer allowed is 'yes'. The Doctor himself barely seems bothered by this. He does some angsting, but otherwise just gets on with it. Perhaps he's waiting for the ending we all know is coming as well?
The only returning character I remembered was Cody McBride, the others not at all (was there a George Limb in Illegal Alien?). Certainly nothing presented here makes me want to go back and revive those memories. As for the new characters, the Americans all come across as ham-fisted idiots, not the most flattering of images of people who have supposedly made their ways in this world. Not that any of the British characters are worthy of paying attention to either. Dear me, is this really the best we have to put up with? Frankly the only character worth of any kind of sympathy is Drakefell, and that's only because he comes across as rather pathetic.
Loving the Alien is the end of the arc by Tucker and Perry, and dare we hope that there isn't another one?
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/11/04
It's been a while since Tucker and Perry combined on the 7th Dr and Ace - their previous books suggested that nobody could write this era of the show better. As a result I was looking forward to the partnership reforming.
At first though it was a bit of a struggle, and I couldn't quite figure out why. I'm not mad keen on learning about scientific speed attempts, so the first chapter or so didn't draw me in. This whole business of Ace dying too - seemed old hat. I know it produces a surprised look, but why go to the extremes of what you can do with a companion like that. Too sensationalist.
I gradually got into the book though, and enjoyed the ease with which Tucker and Perry write for this TARDIS team. The friendship the Dr and Ace have is apparent, yet so also is the manipulative Doctor, who loses control at very bad times. Is Ace his best friend, or just another pawn in the game?
This was representative of a better time in the Dr/Ace relationship. Before the trauma-induced New Adventures threatened to make my favourite show too realistictically brutal. Definitely Season 26 atmosphere then - and that was nice.
I hate to compare books to previous offerings from the same authors - but I simply have to here. Loving the Alien is good, but it's just not Matrix-like brilliant, or even Storm Harvest very good. Thus the disappointment surrounded me more, as I read more. As the book continued I wanted more, I expected more.
I'd invested hard earned cash in the book, and now was investing even harder earned free time in it. Maybe I am going through a sifting process. I've found myself sorting through old books and videos recently. I've got rid of so much that was good. Why? Because I wanted to spend more time with things/stories that are brilliant - not just good. We seem to spend so much time with the average, when the stupendous is at our fingertips.
The review has gone beyond me talking about Loving the Alien - I apologize. Loving the Alien - well written, decent story, straight from Season 25/26 TARDIS team. 7/10
A Review by John Seavey 3/4/05
When I first heard about Loving the Alien, I was interested despite not enjoying any of Mike Tucker and Steve Perry's previous Doctor Who novels. The idea of a PDA that actually formed a story arc with Prime Time and Heritage, that followed up on the events of previous novels... well, it intrigued me, and so I approached Loving the Alien with cautious optimism.
Despite a promising opening, I think I can safely say that it wasn't justified.
The story is murky, muddled, confused and confusing; Ace's death, the hook that draws us into the novel, is dealt with in an irritating and disappointing fashion; the characters are dull, the Doctor's an idiot, the villain's lame, and the ending is incomprehensible. The "About the Author" section claims that this novel ends the story arc begun in Illegal Alien... my only prayer is that Perry and Tucker decide never to put pen to paper again.
The big important plot point of the book, of course, the thing that draws us into the novel, is an elegant idea -- the Doctor finds Ace's body, and has to try to figure out how to stop a murder that has already taken place. This is a great hook for a Doctor Who novel, and the opening scene with the Doctor conducting an autopsy on Ace's corpse, charting the course of events that will lead to her demise while swearing to save her, even if he has to break the Laws of Time, is a wonderful opening to the novel.
Then the Doctor lets Ace wander off on her own without him and she gets shot in the head and dies. Well, there goes the suspense and excitement... not to mention, the Doctor comes off looking like an idiot as well. We're told that when she wanders off at Woodstock, the Doctor utterly freaks out -- suddenly, he's blithely letting her traipse off to God-Knows-Where mere hours before he knows for a fact that her body's going to be fished out of the Thames, with only a homing beacon to locate her by. This isn't "saving her, even if he has to break the Laws of Time" -- this is "not even trying to save her, and letting events take their course." It doesn't deliver on the promise of the novel, it doesn't pay off later in the book, and it's a frankly awful way to deal with what could have been a truly great story.
After that, there's loads of wandering around and fighting, with alternate realities popping up left and right (the Doctor's explanations to Limb and O'Brien do contradict the way history is explained in Time Zero, but I can at least rationalize this away by believing that the Doctor, pressed for time, does not get into the details of time travel and alternate realities the way he does with Sabbath, who understands the physics involved.) Plenty of people die, others get saved, and we're never given any real reason to care about any of them. The authors clearly believe that we should care about Cody McBride, Chief Inspector Mullen, and Rita Hawks, because they devote loads of page time to them and because the Doctor and Ace like them, but giving more page time to boring characters fails to make them less boring. It just grates.
In the end, reality and the multiverse is saved because... um... apparently because James Dean crashed his car into George Limb's time machine, although I think that the Doctor must have done something else off-screen to repair the damage to reality, because that sure as heck doesn't make sense as an explanation. Then again, it's all you're going to be given, so go with it. Oh, and Ace's death doesn't matter, because the Doctor adopts a new Ace from another reality, and that makes it all better. I think the phrase "Yeurgh" neatly sums up my reaction to the last half of this novel. (And as a side note: Perry and Tucker's gargantuan retcon doesn't work as an explanation of why "their" Ace has a surname of Gale and the New Adventures Ace has a surname of McShane. They claim that the new, alternate reality Ace has trouble remembering her surname -- however, that wouldn't explain why Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart found records of the disappearance of a Dorothy McShane. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure they mention Ace's mum's name in Happy Endings...)
On the whole, if you quit reading at about page 110 and make up your own, far better ending, Loving the Alien is a decent book. If you read the whole thing cover to cover, though... you have my sympathies.
An Outrageous, Evil Book by Jason A. Miller 19/10/18
To the best of my recollection, I read Illegal Alien back in April 1998. Twenty years later, I remember precisely one page of that book: the Doctor having a discussion about American baseball players with a bartender. Reading the reviews of Illegal Alien on the Ratings Guide triggers a few other faint memories, of characters named Limb and Lazonby and Peddler, but nothing else about the book has stuck in my head. Thanks to the New Adventures, there are many great books out there starring the 7th Doctor and Ace, but Illegal Alien most definitely was not one of them.
I do have memories of the other Tucker and Perry 7th Doctor/Ace novels, thanks to my Ratings Guide review of Storm Harvest, in which I questioned just what they were trying to do with their "Season 27" story arc.
Well, now we know what they were trying to do, because Loving the Alien is avowedly the final book in that arc. And what they were trying to do was just stupid, stupid, stupid.
Loving the Alien suffers on the one hand from being a sequel to a little-remembered book that I haven't touched in just over 20 years. So, on the one hand, you could say that, even before I turned past the title page, there was little chance that I was gonna ever love it.
But, on the other hand, Loving the Alien also makes so many horrible and atrocious choices that part of me wishes I'd waited at least another 20 years to pick it up. Or 40.
Chapter 1 is actually good, a straight up lift from the Quatermass Experiment, with another direct namecheck, a space pilot named Thomas Kneale (the given name of Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass). This is all very evocative; if you're going to copy your story from somewhere else, it helps to copy from the best.
Unfortunately, the book is longer than one chapter, and nothing else goes right.
Earlier in this "Season 27" story arc (I think at the end of Prime Time, another instantly forgettable book), the Doctor discovered Ace's corpse. We learn here that he found it in London 1959. In Chapter 2, he performs an autopsy of the body, examining Ace's remains in graphic detail.
His brilliant plan to avert this tragic history is... to land in London in 1959 and turn Ace loose on her own, with only a tracking device, which, of course, Ace discovers and places in the primate house of the London Zoo, in order to get her revenge on the Doctor, by leading him to the tracking device now covered in gorilla excrement. I am not making this up.
[I hated this book so much that the rest of this review will use direct spoilers. There's no other way to convey just how ludicrous and ill-conceived the rest of the book is. It really does have to be spelled out, to be believed. Trust me, after you read the spoilers, you won't want to read the book, so it's all good.]
Working in the primate house is the actor James Dean, the actual actor, who has been rescued from the moment of his death by car crash and is now living in London a few years later. He's working as a janitor. He and Ace meet (while he's cleaning up gorilla excrement) go off together, get drunk, get tattooed (which, in 1959, was probably a death sentence anyway, either from hepatitis or heavy metal poisoning) and have sex. Ace gets pregnant. But James Dean mistakes Ace for a Russian spy, because of her Soviet badge (acquired in The Curse of Fenric) and is induced by his boss to shoot her in the head and kill her.
Nothing at all about this James Dean is redolent of the real James Dean. His speech patterns are stupid, his biography is never touched upon, and Ace doesn't even recognize him. What kid who grew up even in the '80s wouldn't recognize James Dean? Ace never watched "Rebel Without A Cause"? Really?!
James Dean's boss at the monkey house is none other than George Limb. I didn't remember Limb much from Illegal Alien, but the authors tell us time and time again that Limb is the most dangerous adversary that the Doctor has ever faced, and the adversary that Ace hated the most. Really. More than the Nazi officer from Silver Nemesis? More than Davros? More than Josiah from Ghost Light, a story which actually explored Ace's personal demons? You have to earn this type of exposition, and the authors fall badly short of earning it.
Limb has discovered a joint British/American cybernization experiment being operated out of the London Zoo, based on the remnants of the thwarted Cybermen invasion from the prior book. This experiment involves gorillas and baboons being turned into cyborgs. Limb has also discovered the Cybermen time machine and has used it to attempt to change history (such as by rescuing James Dean from his death by auto crash), but, in so doing, has created several alternate realities and a dimensional rift. Limb's overly convoluted plan also involves having Ace killed, in order to lure the Doctor into his plot.
How does the Doctor resolve the plot? By using the cybernized primates to attack an invading army from one of the other alternate realities. By ordering a nuclear holocaust (or, rather, by authorizing a over-the-top Commie-hating American general to bluff a nuclear attack, complete with armed warheads, which are then actually launched by a mentally disturbed scientist who happens to be in the room with the general). By manipulating James Dean into killing himself in ANOTHER auto crash. And by persuading Limb to commit suicide and sticking around to make sure Limb does the foul deed.
If any one of these plot twists DON'T strike you as belong to the worst book you've ever read, well, then, sir, you and I are two very different types of Doctor Who fan.
The book is also insanely graphic, with tons of severed limbs and crushed bodies, and babies being cybernized. That was actually normal for the BBC Books, but that series closed over a decade ago, and the New Series is very much not this graphic or visually dsturbing.
No Cybermen appear in the book, but, in one of the alternate realities, Limb has taken over England and created a Ministry of Augmentation, which proudly sponsors the conversion of babies. This Limb functions as a Cyber-controller and speaks in quotes from The Tomb of the Cybermen, but he's not even a good imitation of Roger Lumic from Rise of the Cybermen (even though this book came first, technically). So, if you bought this book because you thought it would be another rollicking Cybermen tale, a la Iceberg, you'd be wrong.
And what of Ace, who's murdered by James Dean at the Part Two cliffhanger?
Well, she stays dead. The authors' solution to her death is to have an Ace from one of Limb's alternate realities, fall into our own, and stay with "our" Doctor. The authors handwave around this by having the Doctor say that THIS new Ace has slightly different memories, and a different last name.
So that was why the authors did it: they believed that Ace, whose given name was Dorothy, should have the last name Gale, a direct lift from "The Wizard of Oz" (from which a quote appears late in this book), rather than "McShane", the surname she was supposed to have had in the New Adventures.
Let's repeat that, since it's important. Because the authors presumably didn't like New Adventures Ace, they literally murdered the "original" character, and let her stay dead, just so they could work into the "official canon" the notion that New Adventure Ace was literally a different person from the TV Ace, with a different last name, even.
I hated, hated, hated, hated, this book.