THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Virgin Books
Tragedy Day

Author Gareth Roberts Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20410 7
Published 1994
Cover Jeff Cummins

Synopsis: The Doctor returns to Olleril to find the native population has been exterminated by the Earth Empire. The secret society of Luminus are planning to use a psychotronic generator to turn the society into that of a bland television program, and the Doctor is hunted by a pregnant woman and an arachnid assassin.


Reviews

The Real Tragedy is the Loss of Gareth Roberts by Tammy Potash 10/8/00

After the long, torturous trip that was the Alternate History cycle, the TARDIS crew needed a change of pace, and so did the readers. Enter Tragedy Day.

First off, I have to mention the cover. Of all the NAs Virgin put out, this and Sky Pirates! are the only ones with the Dr. on it that actually gets him right. Not surprisingly, they're done by the same artist; somebody send Jeff Cummins an award or a thank-you letter or something. Most covers range from the almost-right (Legacy, Dimension Riders) to the awful (Lucifer Rising, where he looks like W.C. Fields- what you can see of him, and not to be confused with the interior illustrations for same, which were quite good) to Highest Science and White Darkness, (where his face is totally unrecognizable).

And the inside's just as good. While not as funny as Sky Pirates!, Roberts manages to thoroughly skewer TV sitcoms, TV production, charity events, the Illuminati, teen pop groups and fans, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Evil Geniuses. Did I mention there's a good solid plot too?

Lots of villains here, from the roving police gangs to the Friars of Pangloss (another sly joke there for those who know their Voltaire) to the Supreme One himself. My favorite is Ernie McCartney, the mutant spider assassin with a case of anthrophobia (fear of humans) whose shadow you can see on the cover. It's a real pity he gets killed, as I would have loved to see him come back in some book somewhere.

"He drove through the streets of Zone Four, two legs on the wheel, two on the pedals, two holding open his street map and two passing mouthwards his morning snack of dead fly biscuits."

The regulars are done competently, with the Doctor getting extra attention and most of the good lines that don't go to the originals. Lots of original characters, who you get a good feel for even in the most minor case, such as the fan of the teen pop group or the bartender.

I have a minor quibble about the ease with which the Evil Genius is converted (it seems to me if he'd gotten that much of a taste for killing people he wouldn't give it up so readily) but other than that there's not much wrong with this book. No Chelonians (which may gladden some of you, but I like them); no room for them. And wait till you find out the secret of the cover!

Track it down and enjoy. 9.5 out of 10.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 15/11/02

Sweet Jebus, I thought I was never going to be able to finish this book. Virtually nothing about this appealed to me in any sort of way whatsoever. For something that seemed like an attempt at a light, frothy and throwaway romp, I found it to be an extremely tiring, turgid and monotonous read. The only thing that the book gets right about the Doctor is the picture on the cover (even that turns out to be a cheat), and neither Ace nor Benny manage to rise out of the depths of one-dimensionality that the rest of the characters are trapped in. The humor is just flat and the parodies are entirely forgettable.

Tragedy Day attempted to be a satire of a handful of different things. Unfortunately, it seemed to be blurring the line between being a satire of something awful and just plain being awful. For example, at the very beginning the TARDIS crew is split off into different subplots. This is, of course, almost a standard feature in Doctor Who stories. But Roberts doesn't even bother giving them any real motivation for splitting up. Ace just suddenly decides that she wants to walk away from the Doctor and Benny for absolutely no reason. I genuinely couldn't tell if Roberts was attempting to poke fun at this convention in storytelling, or just honestly and unknowingly fell into it -- being unable or unwilling to come up with a realistic set of motivations. I actually spent several minutes trying to guess whether this was deliberate or accidental, and I just couldn't figure it out. I eventually decided that whatever it was, it wasn't a success at whatever it was trying to convey. If it was a joke, it fell flat; if it was a real plot point, then it was just unbelievably poorly executed.

And this sort of thing is representative of quite a lot of my reaction to the book. The plot is stunningly silly, and I was rolling my eyes at it rather than giggling along with it. The way the villain is defeated is shockingly uninspired, and although I won't spoil it, I will say that when you're forced to borrow plot points from Timelash, it's time to abandon that line of thought and try again after a good night's rest. (To be fair to the author, knowing a little about how NA deadlines could sometimes be bumped up to accommodate changes in the schedule, it's entirely possible that there simply wasn't a "next morning" in which to think up something better. But even so, the result here is tremendously poor.)

There were one or two bright spots mixed in. The satire is mostly blunt and ineffectual, but there were one or two moments were it suddenly discovered a razor sharp point. And there was a hilarious character, Ernie the hired assassin, who just happens to be a giant spider, dressed like something out of a Western and speaking like Brian Blessed with a fake working-class accent. Naturally, this wonderful and amusing character is given very little screen-time and is removed from the story far before the end. Shame. This character could have at least made the book slightly more palatable, and I shed real tears when he exited the narrative.

Simply put, I couldn't wait to finish Tragedy Day and move on to something else. I just don't get this apparent style of "humor". To me, comedy comes from more than simply repeating bad things that other stories have done. Unfortunately, this book does nothing more than that. When Ernie McCartney leaves the story, there's no more reason to read.


A Review by Luke Sims 2/1/03

Well after running out of EDA's to read I had a look at my book shelf to choose the next Who book that I'd be reading. Being far behind in the books as I am there was plenty to choose from. I wanted to read a book that would be fun. Something nice and easy. That was when Tragedy Day called to me. It said " Luke please read me please please read me" I had a look at the name of the author, which of course it was Gareth Roberts. Having loved all of his other Doctor Who books I grabbed it and started to read.

I finished it a few days later. I must say that even though there is a huge body count, and that some of the scenes are darker in tone to anything Gareth had ever down before, I couldn't help but come away from this book with a smile. Gareth's writing style reminds me of Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher) as they can both do violence in their work, but also retain a strong sense of humour.

It was refreshing to read an NA where the Doctor doesn't have all the answers. Well in this book he doesn't have any, he lets the TARDIS decide on where to take the crew. The Doctor is much more easy going and this is a wonderful thing to happen after the dark alternate timeline arc. Another great thing is he actually gets along well with Benny and Ace. Yay no more fighting.

Ace is good here too, getting to do her action thing against these Blobs called the Slaags and a varity of gaurds and baddies, which is cool.

Bernice is always wonderful and I never EVER have a complaint about her or how any of the authors handle her. I loved her scenes with Ace and the fake robot Doctor. I found myself laughing my ass off.

The rest of the cast I really liked. Forgwyn was the best of them and he had some good moments, his mother Meredith didn't have much to do, but I can't blame here because she was having a baby. Schrubb was a little annoying and was the usual henchman like person. I won't mention much about the Supreme One, even though the book came out in 1994, I will say though that the Supreme One and the Doctor play off each other well and the baddie has some funny bits concerning Benny.

Over all this book is kick ass! It's fun, has plenty of action and a good cast of characters. 7/10


A Review by Steven Clennell 18/1/03

There's not a lot to add to previous reviews but, having used this site for a while without ever having submitted a review and having just finished this novel, I feel that my input is warranted.

First of all, let us be clear on one thing; this is not a work of towering genius. However, neither is it a turgid pile of rubbish. There are the foundations of a great novel here that unfortunately are undermined by a highly implausible, rushed ending.

For lovers of the subversive humour apparent in many of the New Adventures this book is something of a gem. From the cowboy-dressing, Yorkshire-accented, scared of humans arachnid assassin, Ernie, to the enemy Slaags - that seem very reminiscent of angry space hoppers - this book is full of touches that wouldn't be out of place in, say, Red Dwarf or the books of Douglas Adams. There is even the corniest (yet amusing) joke ever seen in a Dr. Who adventure when the Supreme One states that he is aware of the Doctor's interference on other planets mentioning, for an example, Argos. "Ah," replies the Doctor, "Where I averted a catalogue of disasters."

This humour would feel incredibly self-indulgent and superfluous were it not for a tight plot that enables the full employment of such devices. Unfortunately, as I've already stated this is undone by the appalling ending.

There are really two endings here. The first involves the aforementioned Supreme One who has three separate changes of heart and, apparently, goes through puberty all in the space of about five pages. This is all highly unrealistic when you consider that he has spent the rest of the book as a cruel, calculating wannabe dictator. I was expecting that the Doctor had manipulated the little git into allowing him to tinker with his mind-control machine and had then done clever things to it to affect the Supreme One himself. Apparently not. The highly intelligent and cruel enemy just changes his mind because his hormones are playing up and he fancies Benny. Huh?

The second ending is even worse. The Friars of Pangloss have been intriguingly hanging around the edges of the story ready to manifest themselves and throw a spanner into the Doctor's plans. They have been set-up as being incredibly nasty and powerful, Satanic demi-gods of another universe with awesome psychic powers. Indeed, so intriguing is their drip-fed introduction that you could easily see them becoming exciting recurring enemies in the NA's. So it's really irritating when they get defeated by a crappy deus ex machina ending by being tricked first to enter the TARDIS and then to stand on a weapon of destruction that just happens to be the only thing that can defeat them and just happens to be located on the planet where the Tragedy Day events have been taking place and was only introduced into the narrative as a throwaway joke some 10+ chapters previously!

And one more thing; if this red-glass actually had no powers whatsoever and was just used as a symbol to signify the Friars domination of their worlds, why then didn't they just substitute another piece of glass when it was stolen? It's all very well employing a McGuffin in the plot but try to at least have it make sense!

Overall, I enjoyed this book; It was just let down by its conclusion. But then the resolution is probably the most important part of a novel and a great beginning and middle can be ruined by a sloppy end. This wasn't exactly ruined - but it has knocked my appreciation level down. Overall then: 6/10. (Would have been 9 or more if the ending had lived up to the expectations generated by the rest of the book)


A Review by Terrence Keenan 24/4/03

Tragedy Day is from the fertile mind of Gareth Roberts, one of the big guns in the Virgin Line of DW books. The 7th Doc, Ace and Bernice, fresh from the Alternative History misadventures, land on Olleril, where things are mixed up in terms of technology and a secret group wants to take over during Empire City's Tragedy Day celebrations.

There's a lot of fun to be had here. First things first, there are nods to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. The plot is well-constructed and features a couple of surprise twists. The guest characters are well done, with Crispin being the best of the lot. Akin to Huvan from Tomb of Valdemar (and Whizz Kid from GSitG), he's a spoiled brat super genius with plans for planetary domination. Television and big charity events are satirized. I'm assuming that also TV personalities in England at the time were also sent up with the reporters. The only niggle I have is the very end, with the appearance of the Friars of Pangloss, which felt tacked on, after the main plot finished.

Um, this was a different 7th Doc. Seems much more like the fourth Doc in thought, speech and action. Not to say it wasn't enjoyable. It was. It just felt more Big Tommy B than Syl. The closest comparison would be some aspect of the Doc in Transit.

Ace and Bernice. Okay. Nothing memorable.

I wish I could say more about Tragedy Day, but I can't think of anything else. It's a good little read, filled with action, excitement and humor. Worth spending the time to read it.


A Review by Finn Clark 26/10/04

That was a nose-dive and a half! I had a ball reading Tragedy Day's first 200 pages, but then out of nowhere it turned crappy and stayed that way.

Gareth Roberts isn't really a plot-based writer. None of his NAs shone in that regard, Zamper being slow and boring while The Highest Science had that "ants in a jar" plot. What's more, I'd say he's struggled in a more plot-dependent medium (the comic strips), as can be seen in the pages of DWM. The Lunar Strangers, Plastic Millennium, The Seventh Segment, Operation Proteus, Target Practice, The Last Word and The Nightmare Game are all forgettable, apart from the talking cows, though The Nightmare Game had its moments.

Bringing this ramble back on-topic, Tragedy Day's last 75 pages are dire. It's not the carnage. I don't mind death and destruction, since at least it's usually good for a laugh. No, it's the way in which the plot disintegrates instead of reaching a climax, with the book's funniest character (Ernie "Eight-Legs" McCartney) being written out in a Sawardian afterthought and the bad guy having a "what the hell?" change of heart that did nothing for me whatsoever. The little creep's so thoroughly unlikeable that I just didn't care. There's a plot twist so obvious that it's visible from orbit, plus twenty pages of tacked-on nonsense with the Friars of Pangloss and nothing much worth reading about in any way.

However despite all that, I greatly enjoyed this book and would cautiously recommend it.

Tragedy Day's plot doesn't matter. It's merely an excuse to wheel out some comedy characters and satire of the way we live. (It's not even veiled satire, since the book states that Olleril is a cultural echo of Earth in the 20th century.) At most a few names change. We have two recent Big Wars, hippies left over from "decade six", a boy band called Fancy That and some android celebrities of such vanity, stupidity and self-absorbed goldfish memories that you'd imagine they're on day release from their Special School. I must also mention Olleril's parliament and police, which are monstrosities of entertaining wrongness.

Sometimes the parody also gets specific. A bigoted, moronic tabloid hack is called Jeff Shrub, obviously no relation whatsoever to the real-life Sun columnist Gary Bushell. Also the all-important "all-zones access wafer" which lets you out of the slum zones... is a London Underground travelcard.

Then there are the comedy characters. Ernie "Eight-Legs" McCartney is a hoot, but the mother-son double act of Forgwyn and Meredith Morgan is also good for a giggle. I laughed at the Celebroids too, but best of all were the early appearances of Crispin: Boy Genius. You can tell Gareth had a ball writing him. For much of the book I was simply having fun watching these 'orrible people scurry like insects who've just had their rock removed.

I had a laugh with those first 200 pages, but they're not perfect. Sometimes they get a bit political, which doesn't work very well. Gareth's much better at just taking the piss. A more fundamental problem is the NA line-up of the 7th Doctor, Benny and New Ace, which clearly doesn't inspire Gareth as did the Seasons 2 and 17 regulars in his Virgin MAs. They get the odd comedy moment, but in an odd sense these characters are too thin for him to get his teeth into. Gareth's most enjoyable character work tended to come from writing barely-disguised parody turned up to eleven, such as with his 6th Doctor and Mel from Decalog 3, but he couldn't really do that here. (Several years later he got to write an out-and-out pisstake of New Ace in The Last Word for DWM 305 - which read like Gareth finally letting rip with what he really thought.)

Tragedy Day probably isn't the book Gareth meant to write. It sprawls, tries to do too much and diffuses its focus. The satire doesn't go anywhere and it's eventually undercut by the carnage of the last 75 pages. It's not an out-and-out comedy and it's not much shakes as straight drama, but there's more than enough jolly fun in its pages to make it worth a look. Just remember to skim-read the ending, or possibly even tear out those pages and put them in the compost heap. The preceding stuff is fun. If nothing else, you'll be treated to Gareth's cynical opinion of celebrity fundraisers...