The Resurrection Casket
|ISBN||0 563 48642 2|
|Synopsis: Starfall is a world on the edge, where crooks and smugglers hide in the gloomy shadows and modern technology refuses to work. And that includes the TARDIS. The pioneers who used to be drawn by the hope of making a fortune from the mines can find easier picking elsewhere. But they still come - for the romance of it, or old-fashioned organic mining. Or in the hope of finding the lost treasure of Hamlek Glint...|
Swashbuckling! by Joe Ford 6/6/06
It's a pirate story! Who doesn't love a pirate story? What I love about this new batch of hardback novels is that they are no longer stuck between two stools, no longer pretending to be a hybrid of the more mature, pessimistic, adult novels we have come to expect from the NA/EDAs and appealing to the kiddies that the new series has attracted; these books are shamelessly exploiting the fact that they will be read by children. And the best way to do that is to make space and time travel as exciting, as dangerous and as fun as possible... and frankly what adult wouldn't enjoy that? Sod some prepubescent wizard whose adventures are descending into horror and sadness, why not read a pirate story in space featuring pirates ships with exhaust pipes and a homicidal robotic crew! Treasure and swordfights and horrible hairy monsters with sharp claws that are awfully sorry that they have to butcher people! If I sound like the child inside me has been unleashed then I am utterly unapologetic about it; I read this book in two gulps, riding high on the atmosphere of joy it generates.
Don't mistake what I'm saying, this isn't a piece of high art, this isn't the most wonderful book ever written, it's a piece of enjoyable fluff that will pass a few hours and raise a smile.
Let's face it, Justin Richards writing a "Oharghmehearties!" pirate romp sounded like a recipe for disaster; the last time he tried to write a comedy was Demontage and the result were distinctly unimpressive, easily the weakest thing he had ever written. This is a guy who is skilful at plotting, good with dialogue but a little dodgy in the prose department. The jokes in Demontage barely raised a smile. Whilst The Resurrection Casket was hardly a barrel of giggles (unlike The Stone Rose), it gets by with a bucketful of charm and some very well-timed gags (I adored the "Zegging hell!" moment on page 86 and then all the stuff about the monster called Kevin and discussing crossword puzzles whilst trying to kill the Doctor was great!). Justin seems to have taken something that has really recaptured the zest in his writing (perhaps he has just been asking his kids what they like to read!) and The Resurrection Casket conjours up a lot that is great about the new series and the old series, particularly the fact that it doesn't take itself so seriously.
I would love to have actually seen a story set in the zeg on the TV (not that old chestnut again, yeah, sorry Mike) primarily because it is an astonishingly visual idea, a space port which is set up like an old-fashioned stop-off for sailing ships, drunken inns and all. I love the idea of a mixture between new (ships with sails floating through space) and old (the riveted metal and clanking pistons and steam hissing from every joint). This extends to the robot crew, homicidal steam-driven nutters the lot of them, especially Servo Sally who is half woman (her organic parts salvaged from some victim) and half machine (oily joints hissing with steam). Add in some marvellous concepts such as the Resurrection Casket itself (the book plays heavily on the fact that you assume you know what this device does) and the idea that everything electrical inside the zeg breaks down (including the TARDIS!) and you have a very good setting.
The thing that surprised me the most is the fact that Justin Richards still has the ability to surprise me. I pretty much go into each of his books expecting a handful of plot twists, some that I saw coming and others I didn't, but his jigsaw puzzle approach to writing a book can be a mite predictable simply because he has written so many. What shocked me here was the number of plot twists I was unaware of and the fact that the bugger had pretty much answered the biggest mystery of all with the title of the book. Once you have the identity of the famed pirate Glint then everything else pretty much falls into place beautifully but because I would have never have guessed it would be him I was in blissful ignorance to the end! And I cannot believe Richards had the nerve to suggest he was amongst them so early in the book only to have it dismissed as ridiculous, what a cheating git! Another shock I should have seen coming was the reason McCavity was so eager to come on the hunt for Glint's treasure. When his chest falls open I squealed with disgust!
The tenth Doctor is an interesting one in print. I like his energy and charm but by God I don't think I could travel around with someone this manic! It is easy to get wrapped up in the story because the Doctor is so damn enthusiastic about going on a pirate treasure hunt and he is ready to leap in and sword fight, rescue the dashing maiden (erm, Rose) and escape a hit list on a technicality that he doesn't really have a name to put on it! Rose is pretty generic here, reacting to the plot as she should, bubbly and enthused, resourceful and mouthy; it's hardly the best I've seen of her in print but nothing to moan about. I did love her reaction to Kevin-the-monster's love interest in her.
If I did have one complaint it would be that the book didn't go far enough. Once they set off to find Glint's ship, the Buccaneer, I envisaged them coming across a vast metallic pirate city, with hidden jewels, more cutthroat robots, maybe even a sea of battery acid to cross! I was a bit disheartened that once they discover the ship that they were confined to its decks for the rest of the book but the book really isn't about the setting, it's about discovering the true identity of its characters and this is the direction the plot hangs on.
It's weird, I have had the opposite reaction to the first set of hardbacks; there I enjoyed Cole's book the most, followed by Richards and then Rayner's. This time Rayner proudly nabs the top spot, Cole comes last with his spooky chiller and Richards once again hits second, which is no complaint about The Resurrection Casket, a jolly romp which I thoroughly enjoyed.
If you want to remember how great it was to be a kid and have a world of exciting adventures open out for you, read this one.
A Review by Finn Clark 12/1/07
In many ways it's a very good book, but it's also annoying. Justin Richards does Robert Louis Stevenson, and by "does" I mean "forcibly takes his anal virginity". I think what got me is the smugness of this exercise in (ho ho) literary piracy. Doctor Who has a long-established tradition of ripping off the classics and arguably this is no different to the likes of The Androids of Tara or Underworld, complete with names almost identical to those in Stevenson's version and a plot that's more faithful than many official adaptations. Jim Hawkins (sorry, "Jimm") is an earnest young lad who gets tangled up with pirates, and... yup, it's Treasure Island, practically cut-and-pasted.
So I don't object to the idea. Well, actually I do object to the idea, since "the Graham Williams era did it" isn't a sufficient excuse for anything and besides a book doesn't have the advantage of being a massively popular and witty television show starring Tom Baker. You'd have to be much cleverer to make this kind of thing work in prose... but arguably Justin Richards has been. There are some lovely ideas here. It's certainly a far more imaginative SF reimagining than Disney's Treasure Planet, which is beautiful but trite and cloying. (But at least that film's better than Brother Bear.)
No, my problem with The Resurrection Casket is the tone. It's winking at you. The character names made me shudder in pain, for example. Jim is Jimm, Long John Silver is Sally Silver, Ben Gunn is Cannon-K, Captain Flint is Captain Glint, etc. Okay, yes, Justin Richards is sticking so closely to the original that he even preserves details like having Silver join up as a cook. There's a Black Spot, a "parrot" and a dead man's chest. He wants to make sure that we recognise it as homage rather than plagiarism. However even so, those bloody names are symptomatic of a general tone that's silly in a bad way and feels smug. I don't like the jokes, which are heavy-handed, clunking and telegraphed when they're not just plain crap. This isn't humour. It's something that's been shoehorned into a book as a poor attempt at humour for the sake of the children, apparently because the author seems to have been writing throughout at an ironic distance. The "joke" on p31 made my hair fall out. Yes, I'm now bald.
Every so often there's a flash of life. A character moment, or a bit where you suddenly hear the opinions of an actual human being. One page gave me hope that Richards was about to go somewhere with contrasting the romantic image of pirates and the nasty reality.
There are also some great ideas. I really enjoyed the stuff Richards was forced to dream up to justify such a literal retelling. The steam-powered technology is awesome. It's so interesting in fact that it almost becomes annoying when you realise how much potential has gone unrealised through Richards's slavishness to the original book. Accept for the sake of argument that steam-driven technology can produce robots with personalities and artificial intelligence. Obviously it's bollocks, but it's also fun and interesting so one's happy to go along with it. However at one point in the book this has consequences which are completely ignored, as several personalities get switched off with the book never even seeming to notice that these steam-driven creations might have had opinions and feelings of their own.
Kevin is great. I liked Kevin. I'm sure he went down a treat with the target audience, although he's a bit too similar to an entity in Jac Rayner's The Stone Rose. The TARDIS crew are okay too... Richards does his best to make this specifically Tennant's Doctor, although the problem with this is that it's not easy to say even from the TV episodes what distinguishes the 10th Doctor from his predecessor. Even Gareth Roberts didn't really nail it in I Am A Dalek, although there he was constrained by word count.
This book should theoretically be splendid stuff, and for many people who aren't me I'm sure it is. It has great ideas, some enjoyable characters, a nice ending and a strong plot, even if they're largely Robert Louis Stevenson's rather than Justin's. The poor guy deserved a co-writer's credit. Unfortunately the experience of basically riffing someone else's material instead of creating something original seems to have done something unpleasant to Justin Richards. It felt heavy-handed, with overdone dialogue and a lack of subtlety.
In fairness, I've probably overstated my case, giving too many words to my subjective impression because it was such an elusive thing to nail down. As with my review of Steve Cole's The Feast of the Drowned, I'm describing a problem that would almost certainly escape 95% of the target audience. This batch of three books is unquestionably an improvement on the three Eccleston hardbacks from the same authors that kick-started the new series adventures this time last year. Fundamentally, I enjoyed this book. Despite the problems I've elucidated, it held my interest. However it also irritated me.
Standard Fare by Craig Lambert 26/12/07
The Resurrection Casket is a fun adventure romp with a few high points. It seems to be more of the standard fare we are getting from the new series books. The Resurrection Casket is about the same quality and audience and intent as other books from the 9th and 10th Doctors such as The Monsters Inside, The Stone Rose and Stealers of Dreams. Like those stories, this one is your typical adventure plot with one or two twists at the end that seem a little contrived.
Justin Richards's intent seems to be simply to entertain and provide a good romp with the brilliant Doctor solving problems and stopping the baddies. Richards is fairly successful in achieving this goal. Richards seems to have written this for an adolescent audience, but sadly, it is dumbed-down. There is not much to think about in this story and that is why I say it is just okay. There is nothing very meaty in this story, nothing of much depth. The Doctor refers to how 'there is always choice' in the last 30 pages. I suppose this was meant to be the lesson or message. The message comes out like the moral spoon-fed to you at the end of a fable. After every adolescent has read the Harry Potter series, don't authors recognize what adolescents can absorb? I felt like I was watching Neo and the Architect converse.
The baddies are the fun part of the story. I don't want to give any spoilers, but one baddie is such a great character idea. It was hilarious; I laughed out loud. Also, the other baddies are a treat to read. I admire the clever imagination of the author to create this cast of mechanical characters especially the leader: one of the most inventive characters I've ever seen or read in any Doctor Who. For these highlights, the book is worth reading. Very neat bad guys.
Otherwise, the Doctor and Rose are adequately written. The other supporting characters are okay. The setting is a delightful surprise. The plot twist at the end regarding the Casket seems a bit awkward... maybe too contrived, or too poorly derived. I was underwhelmed. I'm surprised it had 4.5 stars on Amazon. 3 stars would be more appropriate.
The book kept my mild attention. It was not riveting. Minor questions came to mind about a few events and transitions that were not addressed. It was the second book by Richards I have read. Sometime Never... was equally unimpressive. I liked the skeleton in that one and the setting as well, but, like Sometime Never..., this story had some vacuous holes left unfilled.
A Review by Eric Jason 17/1/08
Before you read this review please keep the following in mind if you are a fan of Doctor Who fiction: Often it is best to start a Who book without too many pre-conceived ideas or expectations. This is true of the tie-in novels to the new series and especially true of Mr. Justin Richard's offering of The Resurrection Casket. When you read the back cover, you know you can expect some pastiche of Treasure Island and adventure over high concept science fiction. This story is what it advertises, Treasure Island in space set in the world of Doctor Who. My initial expectations were "it will probably be ok". I am glad to say that it was better than ok, it was pretty damn good.
What makes it better than ok you ask? Well, it's the little things that Richards slips in to augment the general pirate-story homage. It is the tidbits of high content sci-fi tech weirdness that fits well in this Who story. Not to give too much away, but the plot point of the super EMP of the zeg space is very effective. It allows the reader to believe in the retro-steam powered spaceships, tin-men robots, and the pirate world of Starfall. Yes, you could say it is a major pastiche disguised as a unique sci-fi concept. But the way it is presented works very well because it does not drive the story, it merely sets the story and augments it for the main strength of The Resurrection Casket, the action-paced narrative and the strong characters.
The narrative of this story moves well. It is not choppy, it doesn't pretend to be high minded, and it is an action story full of fun characters. The action-based narrative gives the characters something to do thus giving it life. The characters all work. The 10th Doctor is presented dead-on; you can really believe it is David Tennant's Doctor narrowly dodging the sharp claws of the sarcastic monster Kevin (I'll deal with Kevin shortly). Not only do you get the good action of life and death battle involving the Doctor in a tight situation, you also get some good comedy as he still has time to give Kevin hints about his crossword while dodging his claws! He also has some good one-liners and confrontations with the mad villain McCavity. Richards seems to get Tennant's Doctor right considering he was new to the role when it was written. Also, Rose is depicted dead on. Sometimes, in other new books she has been presented as more of a plot driver who only serves to ask questions and be saved by the Doctor. In this novel, she is the Rose we like from the show. She wisecracks, stands up to fight nasty robots, and responds to the action narrative as it is presented.
Now let's talk Villains. Especially McCavity. This is a baddie I like. Mad as a hatter. To be fair, if you put this character in a higher concept Doctor Who story that was not a pastiche piece, McCavity would not work. In this story of piracy in space, he works on several levels. At first, in a funny way, as he is presented as the powerful boss of Starfall who has this strange habit of talking to his departed wife who left him years ago. This makes him at times funny (the butt of the Doctor's and Rose's jokes) but you never forget that he has a very dangerous side to him. Richards pulls the reader's strings at the right times with this character. You come to realize, he is not some mild-crazy but a very dangerous deranged man. Especially when it comes to the mysterious chest he carries with him, the statue in his office, and of course why he really wants the Resurrection Casket.
The robots Silver Sally, Elvis, Cannon-K and Smithers are average adversaries. I say this because they fit the tone and theme of this Treasure-Island-in-space adventure. When balanced properly, a character such as Silver Sally works as a convincing foe. I do have a minor criticism in that elements of her character are borrowed too much from Robert Louis Stevenson's book at times. But Richards knows how to play to the tone of the story and gives her some good one-liners to offset that criticism.
Our final villain and baddie is Kevin. This is a large, hairy monster with sharp teeth and very large claws. He just appears out of nowhere to kill, yet he is very reluctant about having to be a monster. He is a very polite and sarcastic adversary that really makes this book fun. He is the highlight of the story and you wish he were in more scenes. He seems more concerned about talking about playing sudoku or pool with you than actually having to bother to kill. You like him too much to really consider him a bad guy. He is fun.
The only criticisms I have of this work are that some of the characters are an over-homage to pirate stories. Yes it is supposed to be a nod to swash-buckling pirate stories but a few characters were botched. Jimm for example is Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. Sorry Mr. Richards but this character is a tribute too far. I can see how they needed a child character for younger readers to relate to but the concept was overdone and it does damage the flow of the story. The same goes for his Uncle Bobb; at least Richards was smart enough to limit his role in the book.
In summary, I was impressed with The Resurrection Casket. I came into it not expecting much and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. Though to be fair and balanced, if you are not a fan of Doctor Who homage stories and like higher concepts and darker themes, then don't get near this one. What makes this novel work is the humor and light-hearted adventure in the narrative. I'd say if this story didn't have fun characters like McCavity and Kevin, it would get a 5 out of 10. It probably would have made a better TV episode. Let's face it, I would have rather had this be a televised story in Season 2 and have Love & Monsters be a tie-in novel. But don't get me started on Love & Monsters, which was without doubt the worst episode the new series has to offer. But since it was fun, I will give it a 7.75 out of 10.
Shiver Me Timbers by Andrew Feryok 16/1/11
"Time to board, me hearties. Look lively, lads."I finally reached the end of the third book of the Tenth Doctor's first three BBC Books. It's been a roller coaster ride from time-bending adventures in Ancient Rome to alien invasions in modern London. And now Justin Richards takes me on a far-flung adventure to a world where technology doesn't work thanks to a force known as the "zeg". Instead, the inhabitants there have to make due with steam power: steam-powered spaceships and steam-powered robots. On top of this, we have a treasure hunt with pirates and crazed lunatics. This should have been one of the standout stories of the year. But instead, I found myself strangely bored, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. The setting was gorgeous, the characters were good, and the plot twists along nicely. And yet, I struggled to stay interested in proceedings and had to force myself to finish the book. So why the lack of enthusiasm? Hopefully I can figure this out as I write.
- The Doctor getting into the spirit of things as he boards the steam ship, page 109, Chapter 5
Perhaps it has something to do with the plot. It's a rather straightforward pirate story about treasure hunting. In fact, Justin Richards borrows heavily from the well known classic Treasure Island. And when I mean "borrow" I mean "shamelessly ripping off". Now, I know that Doctor Who has a long history of ripping off classic stories, but they usually just take the themes, atmosphere and familiar plot elements, and weave their own story out of it. But here, Richards takes the story wholesale, re-imagines the setting from 18th Century seaports to a futuristic spaceport and alters the names slightly. Jim Hawkins now becomes Jimm, Ben Gunn becomes Cannon-K, Captain Flint becomes Captain Glint, and Long John Silver becomes Sally or Salvo-750. But I can't dismiss the story as just being simply plagiarized from Treasure Island. The story is quite good. The atmosphere of a world where technology doesn't work is quite good and highly original. It lends a kind of retro-space opera to the story. But the idea of steam-powered technology is taken to somewhat unbelievable lengths in the story. Especially in the idea of steam-powered robots.
If such robots could possibly have been invented, then they would have been the size of a two story building and have the computing power of a calculator. And yet we have "steam-powered positronic circuits." Huh? I realize that this is science fiction, but usually it tries to stay within the somewhat plausible and I just couldn't find this plausible at all. This is pure fantasy.
There is also the problem of trying to figure out exactly what the story is about as it never seems to focus on one particular point or McGuffin that the story needs to get to. Is it a treasure hunt? Is it about Hamlek Glint? Is it about the resurrection casket? Is it about the origin of the zeg? Or all of the above? Most likely the last. Of course, no sooner are the mysteries established then they are quickly resolved in Chapters 7 and 8. We find Glint, and the resurrection casket and the origin of the zeg mystery is utterly dropped. So what is left to explore?
Well, not much really. By this time, the true nature of the resurrection casket can pretty much be guessed and it just becomes a massive runaround as pirates chase the regulars through the bowels of two ships.
The Doctor and Rose are captured remarkably well by Justin Richards. He gets the Doctor particularly well considering that only The Christmas Invasion had come out at the time. Strangely, this kind of formulaic swashbuckling story needed a zany character like the Tenth Doctor to liven up proceedings. And while the Doctor does get some good moments, he seems rather subdued throughout the story. Rose is true to herself, but has been reduced to the helpless damsel role only really getting to do some things at the very beginning when she tracks down Edd and Bonny, and then at the end when she lets Sally into the pod and then gets out of a hostage situation rather nicely.
But I get the feeling that Justin Richards was a bit uncomfortable with the chemistry between the two and decides to write them somewhat as a generic TARDIS team rather than the close friends we see in The Stone Rose.
Of the guest characters, easily my favorite is McCavity. This guy is really creepy and the payoff revelation about him is the one thing that kept me reading and interested in proceedings. At first, you think that McCavity is going to be revealed as Captain Glint, but in a brilliant twist we discover that it is nothing of the sort. McCavity did something really nasty to his wife and her lover, and it takes the story in a whole new direction. I also love the way he seems to mutter to his wife as if she is there with him. At first it just seems to be an eccentric character quality, but then it becomes really creepy and shows him to be a very dangerous loony, far more than we suspected before. In fact, I think the story would have been even more effective if they had focused more on McCavity as he makes a far more dangerous and far more believable threat than Sally and the pirates.
Oh yes, Sally. I admit that it's a nice character twist that she turns out to be the "Long John Silver" of the novel, something that becomes readily apparent once we discover that she is the ship's cook and personally assembled the crew, just as Silver had done in the original story. Unfortunately, once this revelation occurs, Sally pretty much becomes a one-dimensional ranting villain with no depth whatsoever. It's disappointing because there are a lot of cool ideas to be explored there. For instance, the fact that Sally grafted another person's body onto her own mechanical body as part of a disguise or the fact that she seems to have a past history with Glint as the most bloodthirsty of his crew. But Richards seems to lose all interest in her once her true identity is revealed and instead has her simply be a one-dimensional threat chasing the Doctor and friends up and down the corridors.
There is one redeeming moment when Sally thinks she has the Doctor trapped on her own ship and thinks she is holding all the cards to just charge in and kill them all. But then the Doctor turns the tables on her in a fashion which I won't give away, but is absolutely brilliant and involves the black spot.
Kevin is also memorable, and provides some great comedy relief in the story. I particularly like when he and the Doctor start having a conversation about a crossword puzzle while Kevin is trying to kill him. But despite being a really fun character, unfortunately after having just read Jacqueline Raynor's The Stone Rose, I found the similarities between Kevin and the GENIES to be a little too much. And in all honesty, I liked the GENIES in that story more than I liked Kevin. The GENIES played a much more dramatic role in that story and were much better written. Kevin seems more like an afterthought put into the novel to lighten the mood and provide the occasional threat.
On the whole, this was an okay novel. It's definitely got a lot of imagination going for it. There are some good characters and it's nice to see the Doctor and Rose in a place that isn't the planet Earth. Justin Richards has some good twists to the story and he captures David Tennant's Doctor quite well. However, he fails to get the chemistry of the regulars quite right, his villains are rather one-dimensional (except for McCavity), the story is highly derivative of (sorry, an homage to) Treasure Island and it fails to explore in nearly enough detail the fantastic ideas it puts forward. So while it isn't the worst Doctor Who book I've read, it isn't the best either. Of the three books, it would fall somewhere in the middle. The Stone Rose is far better, but it is much more imaginative than The Feast of the Drowned. Let's see what the authors have in store for the Tenth Doctor and Rose the next three books!