The Trial of a Time Lord
The Dark Path
|Author||David A. McIntee|
|ISBN#||0 563 40592 9|
|Continuity||Between The Trial of a Time Lord and
Time and the Rani
|Synopsis: Pursued by bounty hunters, the Doctor joins forces with his old friends, Glitz and Dibber, to pull off the crime of the century--or see the galaxy decend into interstellar war...|
Not Great, but Not a Disaster by Robert Smith? 10/4/99
In theory, Mission: Impractical should have been just what the Doctor ordered. A comedy can usually be a great thing, lightening the mood and providing great entertainment. A book that's actually deliberately fanwanky (or at least honestly so) is far less offensive than a serious novel that gets ruined by the in-jokes. And so if fanwank is your thing, who better to do it than David McIntee?
The continuity is actually lots of fun, at least for a fanboy like me (I don't think the casual readers is going to get much out of this, but I'm not sure how many people are casually reading the BBC Books these days, so this is probably a moot point). The ties to Alien Bodies help immensely, making this book seem far more important than it otherwise would be.
The book seems to keep trying really hard to be funny, but failing on most occasions. I laughed once, smiled twice -- and sighed at the number of recycled jokes. I'm also at a bit of a loss to see how anyone could write for Ogrons like this. Maybe I've been spoiled by Gareth Roberts, but I didn't think it was possible to write Ogron dialogue that wasn't amusing, but it manages to appear here. In fact, most of the book reads like a comedy written by Chris Bulis, so forced and flat are the jokes. That said, the sequence where the Doctor and the gang make a scene at Chance's club is quite amusing (producing the aforementioned single laugh). Sadly, it takes 130 pages to get to this point.
The first half of the book is saved by Glitz, I think. He's really on form here, with very realistic, Holmsian dialogue. I'm at a bit of a loss as to why this seems to totally vanish in the second half of the book, though. Frobisher isn't bad, but not all that standout either. I really like the idea of the shapeshifting penguin, but he seems to work a lot better in comic strips than novel form.
The Doctor is also reasonably done, but again nothing special. He seems a lot less sixth-Doctorish than other novels and there isn't a whole lot here to develop his character (which is a pity given the nature of the plot). A bit of a shame in some ways... but then again, we've had quite a bit of sixth Doctor development through the MAs and Past Doctor Adventures, so a straightforward adventure isn't so bad.
There's also a surprise revelation at the end, that would have worked much better if the character in question had been a bit more developed. What should have been quite surprising (I certainly didn't guess it, which usually gives me great pleasure) turns out rather blase, because I felt no connection whatsoever to the character.
Some of the things I did like, however, were the action sequences. McIntee has a definite flair for action and even in a supposedly non-action book like this, they still shine. The style is also quite light, making the book something of a page-turner, despite its obvious defects. With much of the focus on dialogue, there's also less need for internal thoughts. This only adds to the strong points of the book and when they do appear, they're usually for comedy villains, so having unrealistic and OTT thought processes don't jar as much as similar cases in McIntee's other, more serious, work.
That's about it for Mission: Unreadable. My overriding impression is that things could have gone either way with this book: we could have gotten a much more interesting and amusing book or we could have had a real disaster. What we do have is neither. There are some nice pieces and good action sequences, but some flat characterisation and laboured and painfully unfunny jokes. A bit of an oddity all up.
A Review by Finn Clark 12/6/99
On rec.arts.drwho, David McIntee wrote:
"As for David Darlington's (yeah I read the review now) question over whether comedy or sentiment works with my style... Well, maybe they do and maybe they don't, but I reckon it's better for me to have a go and see what happens, rather than just write the same themes over and over."This issue is so crucial to my assessment of Mission Impractical that it deserves centre stage. Before addressing it directly, however, I'm going to regale you with some third-hand Umberto Eco, as filtered through at least a couple of faulty memories be fore reaching this review. My apologies in advance for mistakes.
As I understand it, Umberto Eco has something he calls narrative pace (or if he doesn't, we'll call it that). To illustrate this, he gives two examples. One is a Mickey Spillane thriller (I think), while the other is the scene in Casino Royale where Le Chiffre is torturing James Bond. Both scenes last a couple of pages. Both contain the same number of words. However, the Spillane reads like greased lightning and seems to be over in a matter of seconds, while the Ian Fleming scene seems to last forever. Your skin crawls and you really sweat as you wonder with Bond what's going to happen next. Neither is intrinsically better than the other, but each is suitable for a particular type of tale. Getting Spillane to write that Bond scene in his usual style just wouldn't have worked.
Returning to Mission Impractical (or, if you prefer, Mission: Impractical) it seems to me that David A. McIntee has only one narrative pace. His writing has evolved from the rather awkward style of his early novels into the smoother, but still detailed, prose of (say) Face of the Enemy, but he isn't supple (as Ramsey Campbell calls it). He doesn't change gears. He shines when writing doom-and-gloom or grand-scale hard SF, but there are some things he doesn't do well. One is fluffy mindless action-adventure (when he thinks he's writing it, he's wrong). Another is fluffy, wacky joke-fest.
The first hundred pages of Mission Impractical are rubbish. There are some dreadful in-jokes and puns, but they're not funny. You don't laugh, you just groan (unless you're unfamiliar with British adverts and the like, in which case you might not even notice them). The plot is incoherent and the story is just hard work to follow. Sadly, the Doctor and Frobisher don't sparkle as they could (and should) IMO. However, things do improve once we start to get some decent interaction. Glitz and Dibber are quite fun. The jokes get better and the gag situations improve too. I suspect that the prose might even have changed too as McIntee relaxed into the book, though I haven't checked that one. The best bits, though, are the comedy Ogrons. Whether in the hands of Gareth Roberts, Terrance Dicks or David A. McIntee, an Ogron always brings a smile to the face. They're completely unnecessary to the plot, of course, but then again nothing in this book isn't. As an unashamed exercise in self-indulgence, this book is a fitting counterpart to last month's Catastrophea (except that McIntee has to sweat blood to achieve fluffy mindlessness and Terrance Dicks sweats blood to manage anything but).
In the end, I liked this book. It starts dreadfully but gradually improves, until by the end I was fully into the swing of things. However, like Lords of the Storm, I didn't necessarily like it for the intended reasons. There's real drama amid the fluff towards the end (if you look carefully) and it's good to see Frobisher again. Damn shame that the BBC are unlikely to let him return again.
And to return to McIntee's comment at the start... I've got nothing against him trying to write other kinds of books (although it's not as if we don't already have Terrance Dicks and Dave Stone to do wacky, so much better). However, if he's going to experiment, then he really needs to stretch his prose style too. PJO'Rourke would suggest that he try writing pastiches. Nevertheless, within his niche there's no one better than McIntee and I for one can't wait to read his Rasputin PDA, Wages of Sin.
A Review by Reuben Herfindahl 10/8/99
David McIntee is my favorite MA author, so I was understandably really looking forward to this one. The Frobisher bit just made me look forward it it all the more.
Continuity ladden is a nessesary qualifier for this book. Not only does it draw from the series, but his other books as well. The Veltrochni make a strong presence here and we learn more about their culture. They are starting to become my favorite book aliens. Glitz and Dibber also make a welcome re-appearance in this book, and it is explained to us where Glitz obtained the Nosferatu and what happened to Dibber between Trial and Dragonfire.
The book starts out with Frobisher and the Doctor going to see the original showing of Star Wars at Frobisher's insistance, although it doesn't really have much of a point in the later plot, it's a nice point and it ties in nicely with the Season 22 "getting to know the crew better before the story starts" idea.
The Doctor and Frobisher are quickly roped into a mission with Glitz to resteal a Vetrochni artifact that they stole in the first place so it can be returned. They help Glitz round up his old gang and resteal the artifact. In the course of things we discover that the artifact is not truly of Vetrochni origin and that there is definitely a higher technology at work here.
Although McIntee intended the book to be a bit comical, it doesn't completely come of that way. McIntee is very good with action and that's more of what this book is about. Sure there are some laughs, but this isn't Sky Pirates!
The Doctor is very much in charecter. He doesn't argue as much with Frobisher as he did with Peri and Mel, but it works. Frobisher is a stronger charecter and is tougher to argue with.
Frobisher is also very much fleshed out here. I haven't read all of his DWM stories, nor does it make much of a difference. It's perfectly plausable that frobisher traveled with the Doctor after Peri left and before the Doctor picked up Mel.
All in all, it's a fun read. It's not quite up to par with Face of the Enemy or The Dark Path, but it's still quite fun.
Once More Unto the Hull Breach Dear Friends by Matt Haasch 26/8/00
I feel as if I'm about to turn this review into a podium to rant about how others should stop moaning about this so-called "fanwank," or continuity-laden. If this is what can make or break a book, then I wonder what would happen if you people would cut the Bible up, book by book, and complain about every time Jewish people are mentioned. I read that this ties in to Alien Bodies, which I have yet to read, and Mission definitely stands up on it's own, without connections. It's an enjoyable romp and if you hate it, you're probably a grumpy person who critiques and analyzes Bugs Bunny cartoons to death while you should be getting a life.
The Doctor here is a good reflection of the after-trial Baker, which we only can read or hear. He's not prone to violence in a big way, and the book points this out, valuing the life of the Ogron children - nice move. He's the typical hero with a few good words to say (I especially enjoy his 'safety margin' bit). Frobisher is as one would expect on page. If you wish you could see him instead of read him, then you're unusually in lack of imagination as a Dr. Who reader. I could picture him rather well, a sort of penguin Bogart who busts into some liquid metal-esque techniques to get the job done. More stories for this companion please? We've had enough good looking screaming women. Well, actually, women... nevermind. As for the others, oooh boy.
Glitz: Same as we saw last in Trial, a swindling, lazy crook. Very fun character. It's funny if you compare him and Dibber to Garron and Unstoffe in Holmes' Ribos Operation. I only hope I can be an apprentice to some old crook who doesn't want to do the dirty work. Surprisingly, he gets to show off some emotion too.
The aforementioned Dibber: present at least most of the time during his bit in the book. It ranges into getting insight into how he thinks into him just sitting in the background, which would be impossible for any writer not to do with all the characters in the book. But you can manage to keep track due to their distinctiveness. To recap, Dibber: a dope with funny sideburns. Jack & the bunch: The book has a sort of Blues Brothers feel to it while 'trying to put the band back together.' Jack is a bit like Glitz, except he's handsome, dashing, sometimes daring, and a bit more proactive when he needs to be, which isn't that often until the Doctor shows up. Chat and Liang are fun, sort of like Sigfried & Roy, only one's a girl, unless Roy happens to be hiding something. Chat is more prevalent in the characterization department as where Liang is just one of the boys, hired muscle for the most part. The old mechanic guy is a bit forgettable, but a nice guy to have around. What he does is good, it's just that he doesn't do too much.
Aliens: you have your Veltrochni - an interesting bunch, although I couldn't get a bead on what they looked like. Lizards, I assumed, and I know they had claws. Scarier than the Fomasi, guaranteed. The last T'zun, an odd little gray dude. His Veltrochni partner is a bit more fleshed out due to that the T'zun are engineered to be lacking certain things. The Ogrons here aren't that funny necessarily. Where some of the parts of the book are, the Ogrons are surprisingly more subdued to being their more brutal and savage (cannibals) selves. They're still stupid though, no matter how much Lawrence Miles tries to augment them! They do, still have some funny bits, and they still smell bad.
The bad guys, you eventually love to hate. Especially Mandell. Whoo, I wanted him dead so bad. Well written villain, a sort of nice guy who stoops to get his way. The Time Lords are briefly mentioned and play a part in the book. Not much though, odd because most writers would overuse them as a device for the book (Penswick, apparently.)
The beginning of the book is a boring teaser. I decided to just fly through it, the rest is pretty good. The space battles are great. This and Frontier in Space should be filed under the space opera section. In the middle, I couldn't put the book down, it felt like 'Hunt for Red October' in space. Fun stuff.
Appearances of oldies, but not necessarily moldies - Vraxoin, Ogrons, Drahvins (one), The Nosferatu (actual first appearance) Time dams (used well in the station scenes), Glitz and Dibber, of course, and that's about it. Funny, I thought there would be more. Anyway, not Shakespeare, but then, I never had this much fun with "Ol Willie." A rush of enjoyment that makes the day more livable.
Comedy Who? by Joe Ford 10/12/02
Imagine my delight. I'm shopping around town grabbing those boring essentials nobody wants to go out and get and I take a brief detour into The Works, a bookstore nearby. To my utter astonishment I see a wall of BBC books on display all priced at the inordinately cheap 1.99!!! I snapped up Placebo Effect (grr, wouldn't pay 4.99 for that!), Tomb of Valdemar, City at World's End, Beltempest and finally Mission Impractical.
Nowhere near a classic but not quite the ultimate clunker either seems to be the popular opinion of this book. I've heard the forgettable throwabout quite a bit too. I wasn't expecting much and to my credit I didn't get much but it's certainly more worthy than others suggest.
David A McIntee is quite cheeky. To have the nerve to fill his last PDA with such a TV Doctor Who cast list was mind boggling. Somehow and I'm still not sure how he twisted that story into something memorable and engaging. Here he was even worse... Frobisher, Glitz, Dibber, Orgrons, Vraxoin... it just seems as though he wants to tie the books into the series as much as possible. I do think the occasional nod to the past is acceptable but this is just total overload. It's like candy floss, have a little and you're in love, have too much and you feel sick. We should never forge the TV series and the giant universe it sprang to help create this books but I don't think we should be trading on its past so much either. The purpose of the books is to write original, compelling Doctor Who for the new generation, to explore those aspects they were unable to do restricted within the TV format. Unfortunately there is little about Mission: Impractical that is original.
That's not to say its without merit... oh dear me no! McIntee has a brilliant way of conjouring up surroundings with but a few scant descriptions. Like Jack's bar... he gives us very little information beyond the fact that its seedy and looks like different eras of the Earth history, he lets our imaginations do a lot of the work and with lighter books like this I think that is the only way to write. If he had spent ages describing in merciless detail I would have got so bored and tossed it away.
Some characters worked well, others not so. The Doctor is kind of peripheral for most of the book and I think that is a bit of a mistake. This is a gaudy colourful book so who better to drive the action than a guady, colourful character? Certainly he captured the Doctor's voice well but all the verbose Time Lord does for the first 180 pages is help Glitz band his team together. I would have prefered to see him go undercover, in the thick of things trying to help save the two civilisations from falling into war but alas, it was not my book to write.
There is lots of fun with Frobisher though and I request, nay demand a return of this quirky character. I have developed a lot of respect for frobisher since reading this and listening to The Holy Terror, it is great to see the bombastic 6th Doctor with such a fun character. His shape-shifting tricks come in quite handy and there were a few times when I was caught of guard!
As for Glitz and Dibber... okay but not a patch on the whacky duo we actually saw in The Mysterious Planet. The fun of that Robert Holmes story was that he had to write for these two criminals without crossing the line, this was a family show after all but McIntee mentions sex and drugs and stuff and it adds an unpleasant realism to them both where there should be just charm and wit. Also much of Glitz dialogue is assembled from his various TV stories too... I know this is supposed to sound authentic but there were many word for word identical lines!
The rest of the gang are so character-less I can't actually remember much about them except Jack Chance's nasty side. Most of the original characters are faceless. The only two I really gave a damn about were the two assasins Sha'ol and Karthakh because their race issues provided something sort of meaty for McIntee to play with.
The plot is... servicable. I never thought I would see the day when Doctor Who tried an Oceans Eleven style heist plot but it is such a fun story to play with I'm sure McIntee found it impossible to resist! The first hundred pages are quite good with the set up painting quite a nice picture of political events but then the plot just sort of stalls as the Doctor and co band together there little team all in time for the action packed ending. Again things do pick up at the end but by that time I was bored with the somewhat limited prose style McIntee had applied and the useless characters.
This kind of story needs to throw non stop surprises at you. Twist after twists, involving characters and an ending that makes you go "wooow that was clever!" but unfortunately Mission: Impractical had none of these. Most of the 'twists' were signposted and the solution was hardly nail biting. Id have to disagree with Finn Clark on this one and say the first half of the book was the superior half, McIntee seems interested in telling a story then, the ending is just so... predictable, like he wanted it over with quickly so he could start writing another continuity fest.
I know I'm being harsh and I shouldn't. Back in the days of Mission: Impractical we were crying out for comedy, any sort of comedy to help soothe all the angst and drama of the surrounding stories. We were lucky to get stuff like this and Verdigris (oh and The Scarlet Empress). Fortunately these days we are luckier and have been get enjoyable doses of humour (Mad Dogs, Book of the Still, The Crooked World...) but a year or so ago this was a welcome diversion.
Result? Shallow, yes, but what do you expect when the author tells you so in the preface? Boring, no, it has quite a pace and there's enough action to tie you over. Disapointing, definitely, it needed some more OOMPH to give it the style and clas it was obvious going for. Mostly though I would call it forgettable...
A Review by Steve White 14/4/14
Mission: Impractical is David McIntee's second offering in the BBC Books Past Doctor range. His first, Face of the Enemy, got widespread acclaim and is probably my favorite novel of the range so far, so the bar was set pretty high for this novel. Straight away, McIntee makes it clear this is not a serious novel by putting a statement of intent before the prologue. Personally, I prefer the novels that don't take themselves too seriously and are just pure fun, so I was looking forward to starting this book.
The main plot device of the novel is an artifact, stolen from the Veltrochini by a team of professional criminals. It turns out the artifact was stolen for a shady Government and the Veltrochini now want it back, and are threatening war. Time has moved on since the theft though, and the current Government are unaware of the artifact. Therefore a dodgy agent called Mandell hires Sabalom Glitz to steal the artifact from the Government's high-security facility and return it to the Veltrochini. Meanwhile, a bounty is put on the Doctor's head and investigating the attempted assassination leads him to Mandell, who forces him to help Glitz. It's all very spy fiction, with good guys and bad guys, and plot twists abound. Very entertaining.
The only slight disappointment is that Mission: Impractical claims to be a light read where you leave your brain at the door, but features massive amounts of technobabble. The facility where the artifact is held is phased 5 minutes in the past, with the vault itself phased a day different to that. Once you get your head around that, McIntee just flows with yet more time-travel stuff, which requires more concentration than it really should.
The Doctor in question is the often-overlooked 6th. I mentioned in my review of Business Unusual that I feel the 6th Doctor gets a raw deal and that authors usually portray him far better than the script writers did. McIntee does a good job in bringing out the best of the 6th Doctor: arrogant and brash but with an obvious good heart. This is the 6th Doctor I wish got shown on TV.
Companionwise, we have Frobisher, a character who only exists in spinoff media. For those not in the know, Frobisher is a Whifferdill, a race that can change their shape at will. Frobisher, however, likes the form of a penguin. He is also a private detective who joined the Doctor for a few adventures. The characters of Frobisher and the Doctor work well together, and he is infinitely more interesting to read about than Mel who is usually the stock choice for companion to the "nicer" 6th Doctor. I'd like to read more novels with Frobisher as the companion.
Mission: Impractical also sees the return of fan-favorite rogue, Sabalom Glitz, and his sidekick Dibber. I adore the character of Glitz, and do wish we had a 6th Doctor season with him as a regular. Both rogues are written well, exactly as you remember them from the TV. Dibber's fate is revealed but you really struggle to feel much for him, which is a shame. Glitz's crew are bog-standard criminals, although McIntee does try to hint at romance between Chat and Glitz to spice things up a bit, but it doesn't really work, nor is it needed.
The other cast are not really noteworthy. Mandell is a Government agent who seems to be double-crossing everyone; again McIntee tries to liven him up by adding a pregnant wife who is also a policewoman, but again this doesn't work, and isn't really needed. The bounty hunters after the Doctor show early promise, and these bits are entertaining, but neither really shine. Likewise, the Veltrochini are an interesting race, comparable to the Draconians, but they only really serve as a threat to the Government.
Mission: Impractical is a jolly jaunt through a 6th Doctor TV story with the added bonus of Frobisher. It sometimes tries too hard to be something it's not, but overall McIntee has grafted an entertaining story which is well worth the read. It isn't going to challenge you, but, much like the previous book, Catastrophea, it's perfect holiday reading, and who can complain about that.