THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Telos Publishing
Nightdreamers

Author Tom Arden
Published 2002
ISBN 1-903889-06-5 (standard hardback, 10)
1-903889-07-3 (deluxe hardback, 25)
FeaturingThe Third Doctor and Jo

Published by Telos Publishing Ltd.
c/o 5a Church Road, Shortlands, Bromley, Kent, BR2 0HP, England.
Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo find themselves on the wooded moon of Verd, where gravity isn't the only thing playing strange tricks.


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 19/6/02

Random aside: judging by the cover and the inside title page, one might almost think that the full title of this book was "Doctor Who Novellas - Nightdreamers". Wasn't that interesting?

No spoilers.

Tom Arden is clearly a talented and experienced wordsmith. He has a PhD in English Literature, is the author of a million-word fantasy saga and has been a full-time writer for the past five years. I'd be delighted to say that again Telos's policy of hiring "proper writers" for their novellas has produced a mould-breaking masterpiece.

Unfortunately I can't say this, since Nightdreamers bears an unfortunate resemblance to cynically speed-written nonsense that's been dashed off over a couple of weekends. Kim Newman clearly bent his back for Time and Relative and I'd recommend that book to anyone. Nightdreamers... er, no.

Believe me, I take no pleasure in saying this. I can't hope to know what was going through the author's mind, but IMO Nightdreamers is either: (a) an ill-assorted ragbag of kiddie adventure cliches, or (b) a satire of the above, perpetrated with such subtle irony that I'm still wondering. It's a shame I went to town so gleefully in my review of Bulis's Palace of the Red Sun the other day, since I could almost repost the same thing word-for-word in reviewing Nightdreamers... except ten times more so.

We have Dicksian prose - and I'm not talking Endgame or Blood Harvest, but Terry's Target novelisations. That's no exaggeration. I reread some Targets quite recently and enjoyed them. To appreciate Nightdreamers, you've got to get behind a prose style that comes out with lines like "Then the Doctor knocked out the villain and stopped his evil countdown", or "A sad speech followed". (Okay, I invented the first one.) It's like something you'd read to your six-year-old.

Fair enough, I thought. The novellas are Target-length, so here they're going one better by going for Target prose. I was ready to enjoy that. Viewed this way, stuff like the impossible worldbuilding on page 20 becomes a feature. Either it's a deliberate goof for effect, or it's a clue and you're meant to realise that such a planet would have Jupiter-like hurricanes for a few weeks as its atmosphere disappeared into space. (I'm still not sure about that one.)

However it's pointless spoofing bad adventure cliches if your approach is so scattershot that the reader doesn't know what's being spoofed. Here we have...

  1. fairy tale castles and a princess who's getting married tomorrow. (Paul Magrs lifted the form and style of fairy tales, but this is more like a simple, bald telling of one. No self-aware irony, just "Once Upon A Time...")
  2. Shakespeare, mostly A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  3. Star Trek phasers. (Why *phasers*? They could have been lasers or blasters... but no. They had to make it Star Trek.)
  4. the Wizard of Oz.
  5. melodramatic Flash Gordon material like the (gasp, intake of breath) Vorgon Rays!!!! (Oddly this fits with the rest of the book, whereas more mundane technobabble like phasers and sonic screwdrivers clashes badly with the kiddie stuff.)
That last point produced the book's biggest laughs for me. Some of the dialogue is pure Ming the Merciless, the kind of thing that can't help but bring chuckles. These bits are so OTT that I can't believe the author's tongue was far from his cheek. I just hope he got as many laughs out of writing these bits as I did when reading them.

But you can't take any of it seriously. Jo Grant is stupid even by Jo Grant standards. The ending couldn't be goofier if it wore a silly hat. There's a tearful moment on page 93 which is the funniest thing I've read in ages. If you're like me, you'll have so much fun reading Nightdreamers that you'll reach the final page wondering whether Tom Arden has in fact created a clever spoof of bad writing.

However in one way Nightdreamers made me question my sanity. It's an entirely personal reaction, unrelated to the writing, but since the book's audience is almost entirely fanboys I've decided to include it in my review.

My imagination kept casting the book's characters as past Doctors.

I know, I know. Finn's brain sprang a leak. But as soon as we met a sneaky, manipulative little bugger called Sly who peeps out of shadows and rubs his hands in glee... sorry, mate, that's the 7th Doctor. Maybe it's the prose style? We're so used to recognising Doctors from a few familiar keywords that it only takes a few accidental resonances to kick our brains into making unwanted connections. I went on to spot the Master (p43), Davison (p50) and Hartnell (p61), no matter that this was obviously my diseased brain rather than any deliberate intent of the author.

That was weird.

Incidentally, I'm developing a love-hate relationship with the Telos introductions. I start with 'em, they irritate me... then, after reading the novella, I flick back and find myself suddenly appreciating them. Katy's intro is what I'd have written, too. :-)

Keep the forewords by all means, but stick 'em at the back! Please!

I've said mean things about Nightdreamers, but somehow I have a sneaking affection for it. It's a speedy read (under an hour), tearing from scene to scene so fast that it kept tripping over its own feet. Maybe it's terrible, or maybe it's really clever. I honestly don't know. But if it is bad, it's so amazingly bad that it becomes endearingly lovable - the prose equivalent of Plan Nine From Outer Space, but more so.

Read it, by all means. Just don't pay 25 quid for the thing.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 13/7/02

When reading the interview on Outpost Gallifrey with Tom Arden I was looking forward to this Novella. I believe it to be the ideal length for a DW story, and the Fantasy aspects of the plot particularly appealed to me. The inspirations were familiar to me, and this whetted the appetite even more. And so Nightdreamers was eagerly bought and put to the front of my ever growing pile of "things to read".

The great thing about a Novella is that if it is a great book, you are left wanting more - which is always a satisfying feeling, your faith in DW confirmed and eager for the next bit of magic. If the alternative is true - it's a terrible book - it's not around too long and you can quickly read it and discard it. Nightdreamers brought out both feelings. Many times, in the first half, I scratched my head wondering if this was going to get any better. Thankfully for the second half it does, and actually made me scan back to the first half and enjoy that more. Once I'd captured the essence of the book, I could enjoy it more.

It's a light read, and after many BBC Books that try to be an epic and just turn out confusing, that's quite welcome. It reads like a fairy tale, the kind that your Mum used to read you at bedtime when you were very young. The inspiration of Shakespeares' Midsummer Nights Dream is everywhere, but whether you like this kind of theatrical frivolity is very much a matter of taste. The author also uses old Sci-Fi serial dialogue. The baddie in particular sounds more like Ming the Merciless, but DW's roots are firmly enshrined in these tacky, but supremely entertaining, pre-war serials of cinema.

This book made me think of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe too, all that prancing about, clearly very silly but fun to be a part of. I also felt that Mahler's 1st Symphony should be playing in the background, that reawakening of nature very much a part of the atmosphere created. There's also touches of Ridley Scott's Fantasy Film Legend, a beautiful film to look at, but lacking in plot. Groves in Forests, with animals looking on, sprites nipping between the trees, flowers alive with vitality and colour. This is a fantastic image, magical and romantic. This is by far the book's most abiding memory, and I'm grateful for it. If you go into the book expecting something serious, then forget it. This is a lighthearted fantasy that is designed to take you to a sunny wooded glen. Where the bluebells sway in the breeze, and a Princess lives in a Castle on the hill.

The 3rd Doctor actually fits into the book quite well, as does his princess-like companion - Jo Grant. The conventions of Pertwee's Doctor are there, marvelous machines pounced on with glee. There's also the unique way that the 3rd Doctor took everything seriously - so making the ludicrous seem a bit more closer to home. It's not your traditional DW book though, even though the author does bring in plenty of Whoish comments (monsters looking like men in costume, villain who creates world for own ends etc).

I cannot think of any other DW story like it. It is quite childish in places, but DW is often that. Magic and simple story telling have a place in DW for sure, and it's nice these Novellas can take all kinds of story-telling types. It takes a bit of time to get going, but when it's finished you wish you could spend more time in this fairyland world - and that's the greatest recommendation I can think of for reading it. 7/10


A Review by John Seavey 15/4/03

Nightdreamers, by Tom Arden (an author I've never heard of, but who apparently has an extensive pedigree outside of Who), is a transparent attempt to pastiche Shakespeare's comedies. We've got the Nightdreamers, more or less akin to the faeries from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', enchanted "rude mechanicals" and love spells from same, a woman dressing up as a man ('Twelfth Night'), a Duke in exile with a daughter who falls in love with the son of the exiler ('The Tempest')... in short, we've got Shakespeare in the blender, here, instead of in the park. It does all work, though, even if it does leave you craving a bit of the actual bard.

I'm honestly not sure whether this benefited from being of novella length or not. On the one hand, the novella does seem to make for a great Doctor Who story, cutting out some of the padding that can infect the full length novels and getting right into the meat of things -- on the other hand, in a story like this, where the author is deliberately trying to pack as much Shakespearean contrivance as possible into the length of the book, it does leave one with a bit of a dazed feeling afterwards. When the long-lost brother turns up, the villain is revealed to be a spy, the butler is revealed to be the Emperor posing as a scientist posing as the butler, and the wife awakens from her decades-long slumber, we barely even have time to notice the moon hatching like a giant egg to reveal the adult form of the Nightdreamer King. It all gets to be a bit much, in short.

Still, it's all in good fun, and for those who like the source material, playing "Spot the Reference" can be a lot of the enjoyment. The story is a bit thin, but as with previous Telos novellas, there's very little padding and it doesn't stay around long enough to get tedious. The characterization of the Doctor is good, and while Jo feels a little "over-expositioned", Arden doesn't do a bad job with her. You could definitely do worse than give this one a read.


Childlike, but not without charm by Robert Smith? 16/7/03

I'm not sure if there's some colossal joke that I'm just not getting. Tom Arden claims to have a PhD in English literature, which makes it all the more bizarre that Nightdreamers appears to have been written by an eight year old who's seen a few Shakespearean plays.

And yet... I dunno, there's something weirdly appropriate about evoking the era of third Doctor and Jo through childlike prose. It's the era most of us grew up on when we were young and one which only really works when you're in a childlike frame of mind, so this is much more fitting that it should be.

The story is exceedingly simple, best imagined as a play with a couple of mildly convincing backdrops and a few mid-range character actors. It does read quite quickly, but that's a bit like saying that assembling coloured blocks into some sort of tower isn't too intellectually taxing. I'm really not sure what the author was intending here, but one thing it has in its favour is that it's wholly unlike any other DW book published over the last decade.

I think that probably contributes to its charm. If this were penned by anyone without a PhD, you'd probably dismiss it as simplistic rubbish. However, it does have a certain essence to it that meant I couldn't help enjoying myself, almost in spite of the story at hand. On the other hand, I have a PhD in mathematics, but I'm convinced that if I wrote a book called "Counting for Beginners" my degree wouldn't necessarily make it any more worthwhile.

Metebelis III is twice referred to as "the famous blue planet of the Acteon Galaxy"?', which is verifiably wrong. It's the Acteon Group, not Galaxy, as the first few minutes of Carnival of Monsters shows. This wouldn't be so bad, but we also get Jo continually talking about how much she misses Latep and how she hopes she'll fall in love with someone else in the very next adventure. Lucky that. Oh, and there's a weird burst of continuity on page 88 for some reason.

There's really not too much to say about Nightdreamers. It's extraordinarily simple book, but that isn't without its own charms. It's very Target-like, with a nice little tale that has some well evoked atmosphere and tells the sort of story you were always dragged to see in the theatre when you were at school. It's a pity the price tag on this one is so high; at about a third of the price it might have been a reasonable throwaway read. As it is, it's a lot to pay to get so little.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 4/5/04

Hello, my name is Tom Arden,
And I'm a big goofball.
I'm not harmin' like Kate Orman,
No, I am mad like Mad Magrs is.

Nightdreamers is what you'd get if you went back in time and handed William Shakespeare an elementary Physics textbook, a kiddie version of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, and a crack-pipe. This book is as goofy as all get out. I liked it, but it's possible that you would have to be in the mood to read something as wacky as this. It's a very fine line between outrageous fun and tedious illogic, and I can definitely see how others could hate this. Personally, this was just what I was in the mood for, so it worked for me. Every time I turned a page, I'd think, "Well, the story can't possible get any goofier" only to be proved wrong yet again. Maybe if I read it a second time in a different frame of mind, I wouldn't have the same reaction. But at least I would know what I was in for.

The story has a very fairy tale feel to it. It's about royal families and magical demons. The prose has a childlike quality. Yet, despite these characteristics, it doesn't quite succeed at being a fairy tale, as there simply isn't enough death, destruction and random violence. Traditional fairy tales are much darker, much more grisly than this. This is like a Disney-extreme version, resulting in something that lacks the edge of its basis. It seems to be written at a young child's level, but I'm not sure that kids wouldn't feel they were being talked down to. I imagine this is an attempt at being a nostalgia version of a fairy tale -- the pleasant, happy stuff, from an adult point of view where all the darker elements have been forgotten.

Still, if the book isn't a successful fairy-tale, I did find it hugely entertaining. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but I was laughing like someone who needs locking up. The third Doctor is, of course, the perfect foil to the bizarre unnatural behavior going on around him. Monsters are roaming the woods, princesses need rescuing, and the Doctor is wandering around mumbling about his sonic screwdrivers and his physics. It's a hoot! This sort of thing would be unbelievably awful if expanded out to novel length, but it's much easier to keep up this spoof insanity for the mere one hundred and five pages that this story lasts.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Nightdreamers as a celebration of style over substance. In other words, it's got a lot of goofy style, but absolutely no substance at all. I laughed a lot, though to be perfectly honest, I don't know whether I was laughing with it or at it. Was I was meant to be amused by some of the action adventure cliches or was I somehow expected to take this nonsense seriously? There's absolutely nothing original about anything here, the only question is whether these particular stock pieces have been ripped off exactly this sort of way before. I can't fathom what the author was attempting, but the result just entertained me. Judging by Katy Manning's foreword (where she talks about losing her house keys, visiting her mother, being evicted from her apartment, and, oh yes, says a few words at the end about the book), she didn't quite know what to make of it either. And, paradoxically, despite the fact that I can't think of a single story like this one, this is probably the most faithful print recreation of the Third Doctor era that I can think of. Go figure.