Match of the Day
|ISBN#||0 563 48618 X|
|Featuring||The fourth Doctor and Leela|
|Synopsis: There were the contracts, the agents, the local sponsors, the pay-per-view broadcasts, the independent verification of results, the laws which made murder legal in carefully defined circumstances? It had taken a long time for the system of freelance duellists to be established, and an even longer time to develop the league of interplanetary superstars the others fought to reach and to challenge. And just when it was all working satisfactorily and profitably someone or something started interfering with the set up.|
Celebrity savage! by Joe Ford 9/3/05
Chris Boucher and I have had a strange relationship regarding his work for the BBC. Each of his Doctor Who scripts have been marvellous, witty and intelligent explorations of some pretty weighty themes (religion, fear of robots, the evolution of man) and were highlighted by some excellent characterisation of the fourth Doctor and Leela. His books on the other hand have been mostly awful with the writer clearly still in the mindset of writing a script. Last Man Running was extremely amateurish with prose that would make Terrance Dicks' work look like art. Corpse Marker was better but only because Boucher returns to his ideas that so brightened Robots of Death and we get to catch up with some old characters. Psi-ence Fiction on the other hand was one of the least interesting and most annoying books I have ever read, entirely dialogue driven and populated with some stupid kids that you really want dead and a villain so plainly obvious you have to wonder why he bothered to try and conceal him.
To say Match of the Day was not highly anticipated would be an understatement. To say that Boucher has written his best book here would not be a lie. There are some problems with Match of the Day, one huge one in particular but on the whole this is a genuinely readable, pretty well written book. It passes the time nicely and will even make you a laugh a few times.
So what is wrong with the book? It suffers from repeat syndrome so many times I was scratching my head with confusion by the end. Repeat syndrome, for those of you not in the know is when a writer writes a sentence and reapeats himself twice within in it. Boucher does this many times, he even duplicates entire sentences two or three times with only marginal differences. To add salt to the wound he also reverses repeats so his repeats are reversed. Just like that. Over and over and over again. If this was a character trait of one character, perhaps just the absent-minded Doctor I could understand but it becomes a core factor in the entire book with every character repeating their thoughts and dialogue. Again and again and again, to a point where I was thinking if he did it again I would rip the pages out and use them for toilet paper.
Too much of the book is written in internal monologues but then Boucher seems more comfortable writing these character vignettes than action sequences so perhaps that is not a bad thing. I have nothing against long looks in characters' heads, especially when the characterisation is this good but it does tend to halt the plot up at times.
The worst sin the book commits is the ending, which refuses to tie up events in any sort of satisfactory way. For its first 250 pages the book proceeds apace (except for those monologues...) with lots of worldbuilding and action and it genuinely feels that the book is leading somewhere special. Events achieve a dramatic crescendo, promising to climax on a orgy of twists but they never appear. The book just sort of fizzles out, ending on a truly pathetic last fifteen pages where the Doctor and Leela achieve very little but expose a conspiracy that was obvious pretty early on. That is what I read for 280 pages for, to see a few corrupt officials locked up? Yaaaawn. With such an intriguing backdrop set up you cannot help but wonder why we are bothering with this silly story when there are clearly lots of other more exciting things going on. And the list of unanswered questions is exhaustive... why did the TARDIS not want to land on this planet? Why did the Doctor set up his own training school? Why was Sita framed for murder? Why didn't these powerful and influential leaders just call off the fighting rather than kill the fighters? I turned the last page wondering if editor Justin Richards was aware that so many promises of answers went unsatisfied.
All of this somewhat clouds the fact that the first two thirds (and more) of the book are extremely enjoyable, a terrific, rambling plot that opens up continually, heading of in different directions every twenty pages or so. This book is impossible to predict, I had no idea where it was heading and that is an underrated pleasure. And Boucher seems to have recaptured his magnificent wit, as there are some hilarious lines and witty digs at our own society obsessed with celebrities.
Any sequence with Leela is to be treasured and she is written for here at her best since Eye of Heaven. I would expect her creator to capture her better than any other author but his previous books saw Boucher treat her as something of a simple killer and in a highly antagonistic relationship with the Doctor. Here he reverses both trends, Leela is highly intelligent, using her instincts and advice from the Doctor to overcome some pretty challenging obstacles. The scenes where she wakes up in zero gravity and tries to figure the use of an airlock are astonishingly written, Leela learning to reason and think rather than just reacting. Plus she enjoys a fair number of scenes with the Doctor where they are seen to be teaching each other, the Doctor constantly happy with how she surprises him with her intelligence and thinking know other companion has kept him on his toes this much. I love how Leela makes a promise to a man she hates and refuses to leave the planet when they have the opportunity because of her promise and her honour as a warrior. She is an often-delightful companion but this top-flight characterisation.
And yet the Doctor is even better, the fourth proving surprisingly difficult to capture in print, especially the early seasons 12-15 Doctor who lacks the exaggerated mannerisms and behaviour of his later self. This is pure season fourteen, a manic and witty hero, constantly outfoxing his opponents with his incessant babble. Boucher writes for this Doctor superbly, allowing us inside his head constantly and proving that this can be an enjoyable experiment especially when he is as zany and funny as he is here. I love how he keeps talking to himself, asking silly questions. I love how he consistently annoys people by refusing to take their threats seriously and grinning wolfishly all the time. And I love his reaction to being arrested for NOT killing somebody. The Doctor actually does very little in this book, more swept up in events rather than controlling them but he remains an unforgettable presence with his fighting empire and top-flight client, Leela.
I adored the subplot featuring the intelligent duellist Keefer which took so many great twists I was reading with relish. This is the sort of character who is introduced and despatched early in a book so it is great to see Boucher defying expectations and allowing him to constantly outfox the world that is determined to see him dead. Every time I thought he his chips had been cashed he came up trumps with another ingenious idea that saw him through. His efforts to get on board the Ultraviolet Explorer are fun to follow and it is rare to find a character receiving this much attention. Another good experiment that pays off.
Having Keefer constantly outfox the authorities and the Doctor and Leela in so much mischief it allows us to see how this empire is structured and allows for some nice world building. We get to see the duelling side of society, the regular people in their homes, the security forces, the space programme, the legal system, the hierarchy, the off world travel system... Boucher is continually adding background details that make this a more vivid than usual setting. With lots of political machinations going on behind the scenes that are barely explored you cannot help wondering that there are lots more stories to be told here.
It is the first of Boucher's books that feels as though it should be longer, not only to give a more thoughtful conclusion to events but because the behind the scenes dynamics of the story demand further exploration. Plus it is engaging as hell and more of that is always welcome.
I cannot write off Match of the Day as a failure because it is clearly Boucher's finest work for BBC books yet. It contains scenes as gripping as Sita's wrist-slicing race against time and Leela's unfortunate trick of escape that sees an innocent man killed. It is very funny too. If only the climax were more satisfying it would match the quality of last year's best PDAs.
A Review by John Seavey 31/3/05
Ah, yes... after long delays, Chris Boucher gives us Match of the Day, the fourth in his series of LEELA novels, based on the character he created back in the 1970s. This one takes Leela to a world where murder is legal under certain circumstances, and Boucher uses it to counterpoint Leela's savage, yet noble code against the decadent blood-thirst of a civilization gone mad. Boucher excels at characterizing morally ambiguous characters, and this one's got a host of them -- Keefer, the professional duellist, shows up as a "civilized" version of Leela, having a different background but the same near-superhuman skills and instincts. He's just one of a host of incidental characters that are quite enjoyable to read about.
But let's face it -- we're not reading this book for Keefer, we're clearly reading it for Leela, and Boucher shows us why she's the hero of the novel. Whether fighting in zero-gee, or showing her tracking skills as she hunts a fugitive to the edge of space, Boucher stops at nothing to show (and tell) us just how smart, swift, strong, and noble Leela really is. The plot itself is a little shaky, giving away too much too early and ending in a muddled mess, but there are (as with his previous novels) lots of good individual moments and lines of dialogue in the journey. It's a pleasant enough way to while away a few hours, at least...
But why, oh why, does he have to keep harping on this 'Doctor' character? I mean, I realize he's "needed" as Leela's chauffeur and scientific advisor, but as with the three previous books in the LEELA series, Boucher writes him as a wibbling idiot who can barely keep his head together long enough to hold a conversation, much less help Leela with any kind of effective plan. I like his writing, but he should either find something interesting to do with the poor guy, or else write him out of the series and give Leela a real chance to shine.
A Review by Finn Clark 25/6/05
Shiver me timbers, it's another Chris Boucher novel! Are you excited? Personally I think it's been demonstrated that returning old TV show writers struggle to reach even the second tier of today's novelists and audio dramatists, but for now I'll let it slide. Boucher isn't the worst of them. He's now written more novels than TV stories (all starring the fourth Doctor and Leela) and he's been improving since Last Man Running.
Match of the Day is a nasty little SF thriller about a world where gladiatorial fights to the death are part of everyday life and it's a capital crime not to kill your opponent. You couldn't possibly feel affectionate about these characters, but they're certainly not passive. There's plenty of action, intrigue and (needless to say) death and violence.
Is it a deep novel? Well, there's no psychological complexity. Bastards kill other bastards. You get the idea. However there are multiple layers of deception in who's behind what and why... something's going on and you can be sure that the process of uncovering the truth won't be pretty. Plot-driven thrillers aren't my favourite genre, but as they go this one isn't bad. Even now, four novels down the line, a Chris Boucher novel feels like a fleshed-out script... but it's a good script. If Boucher could just capture the sparkle that actors can bring to their lines, he might really start going places.
The leads are okay. The fourth Doctor can be a little overdone, but he's a decent eight out of ten. We've seen worse! Leela is strongly portrayed, though... Boucher is clearly fond of the character and enjoys exploring her personality and worldview.
It's hard to talk for long about this novel, because it's so simply focused on what it does. It's not trying to be literature. It doesn't have absorbing characters, complex layers of meaning or a particularly imaginative setting. It's not even very fast-paced, which is slightly surprising for a thriller... it's clearly been decades since Boucher ever made the beginner's mistake of cramming a trilogy's worth of ideas into a novel. Admittedly it's shallow, but in its chosen genre that's perfectly acceptable. No, its biggest crime as a thriller is the underwhelming climax, both in terms of weak action and undramatic revelations.
However this is only my opinion! Reactions to any novel will be subjective, but with this kind of bleak violent fare they tend to be particularly so. If it works for you, congratulations. If it doesn't... oooooh dear. More than one reader has called this Boucher's worst book yet.
This novel could have been a catastrophe, but it's redeemed by the simple fact that (for me) it works. We've seen far too many charmlessly macho Doctor Who novels that steep themselves in violence to the detriment of character and reader interest. Match of the Day comes close. It's treading a depressingly well-trodden path, but somehow it kept my attention. I wanted to know the secrets behind everything and what would happen next. Now I think about it, that's a more impressive trick than it looks.
Six Out Of Ten by Jamas Enright 27/1/06
There is one very good point about this book, and one very bad point.
The good point is the story. I really liked it. Society is built around the idea of duels, of two fighters coming together under the Rules of Attack, and challenging each other. And ending in the death of one participant. Which is considered entirely acceptable, even normal, in this society. Except now someone is killing off all the fighters, and their agents, and is basically trying to wipe out everyone connected with it.
Into which the Doctor and Leela come. Leela is the 'savage', always ready to kill, and so would be perfect in this society. Except that now she has been 'civilised' and doesn't kill any more. (She also goes on at length about being a warrior, not a killer, and so wouldn't kill anyway. Okay, whatever you say, Chris.)
This works for me. The book has a strong opening, and keeps the interest going for a long time. The ending is also extremely kinetic, and works well. This does leave the middle of the book, which does sag as we watch various characters travelling from place to place to set themselves up for the ending (which comes off as large amounts of padding in places), but various scenes during the book make keeping reading worthwhile.
However, working against this is the big negative of the book, and is something that is going to stop most readers before the second chapter. I'm talking about the writing. Oh dear gods, what the hell was Chris Boucher thinking? It's a wandering, over-blown, mish-mash of half jumbled ideas, sentences and paragraphs that barely congeals into a semblance of narrative structure that just manages to convey the actions and thoughts of the characters. Chris Boucher even has his characters point out that their thoughts are wandering all over the place, but this just serves to emphasise how bad the writing is, not excuse it as character-based moments (especially considering that the characters consider their wandering thoughts as completely out of character). It just feels like ranting padding and really gets in the way of any enjoyment that might be had here.
But this is Chris Boucher, and he knows how to write the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Well, actually, considering that the Doctor is one of the characters who have mish-mash wandering thoughts that even the Doctor thinks is strange, in this case let's just go with he knows how to write Leela. That said, she is far more 'warrior-savage' here than she has been presented elsewhere, even in other Boucher books. Leela is still a developed and interesting character, but it is almost as if Boucher is reinventing Leela each time. Consistent character development seems a little beyond Boucher here.
The other characters can be easily summarised by one word each. Keefer is a fighter. Sita Benovides is angry. Sergeant Lars 'Drftkiller' Ronick is fat. And that certainly seems to be their main motivating impetus. They don't overly add to the book, but they don't detract either, so Boucher gets away with them.
Great book, but terrible writing. If you can get past the latter, you'll enjoy Match of the Day, but that is a large hurdle to overcome.
It's not about football, but it's almost as bad by Francis Salvi 9/11/12
Living in a post 'Wilderness Years' world, not yet aware of the Reprint Society, and more of an avid collector of the Target Books, I was always fascinated by the various original novels that Virgin and BBC Books churned out during the 1990s and the mush of the early-mid Noughties. Especially before the coming of Big Finish, these books helped to keep the flame alive, providing their own continuation of the TV Series, and providing a glimpse at some of the Doctor's previously unseen adventures. I have always been saying to myself that I would love to get a hold of them; however, with books like Lungbarrow, The Dying Days, and Cold Fusion now out of print and extremely expensive, I was unsure where to start and somehat put off by the excessive price tags. You can imagine my surprise and unending delight when I managed to find a copy of Match of the Day in WH Smiths. Nestled behind some brand new Target Books reprints, it miraculously still looked brand new. I suppose my lofty expectations were inevitably going to be let down.
The story is this: the Doctor and Leela arrive on a planet that makes killing legal, but only when two individuals are engaged in a challenge. To represent the more revered of these challenegers, there is a whole network of agents and a political system that deals with 'illegitimate kills'. You might guess from that brief synopsis that the novel promises an action-packed romp sprinkled with a liberal amount of comic relief; however, you couldn't be further from the truth. What we get instead is probably one of the most torrid stories to feature the Fourth Doctor. Despite the fact that it is sandwiched between The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang in terms of chronology, this is probably as far from the sterling Season 14 as one can possibly get.
The characters do little to help matters. The potential 'Robert Holmes'-style double-act of Fanson and Keefer at the beginning of the story did admittedly start out very promisingly - it got me looking forward to more scenes of banter between the two - but Keefer's sluggish sub-plot and Fanson's untimely 'death' soon put paid to that. Fanson is, in all honesty, a really good character let down by some less than wonderful dialogue, and I felt that the second half of the book was all the worse for his absence. In his place, we get the double act of Sita and 'Driftkiller'. While they are both good characters, they came across as really rather boring whenever they lanced out on their own.
The best compliment I could pay to the novel however is that it absolutely nails the characterisation of the Doctor and Leela during Season 14. The Doctor still retains some of the more reserved qualities of his early fourth incarnation, but you can start to see (or should that be read?) some of the more wackier tendencies that Tom Baker would bring to the role begin to seep through here. As for Leela, this is probably one of my favourite depictions of the character. She carries her portions of the story remarkably well, managing to raise them above the book's usual standard. I especially loved the references to her life as part of her native Sevateem tribe.
Of course, a word or two must be said about the novel's main 'guest' character, Keefer, as he has an entire subplot devoted to his attempt to escape the authorities pursuing him and to find out exactly what has caused events around him to go completely pear-shaped. Frankly, I could have done without the subplot, it really did go on for far too long, and it is the only time that, no matter how bad things have got, I have ever considered putting a book down. What upsets me the most is that the Keefer strand could have been so much better.
As you may guess, to say that I am not a big fan of Match of the Day is an understatement. Despite some interesting characters and premises, the execution lets the side down massively when things could have been so much better (I hate using that phrase). Since buying this book, I have managed to get a hold of The Gallifrey Chronicles and The Infinity Doctors, and even Lungbarrow. I can only hope that I am more pleased with them