State of Decay
|Authors|| Jonathan Blum and
|ISBN||0 563 40566 X|
|Synopsis: It's San Francisco, 1997, and a spate of Vampiric killings have been terrorising the city. The Doctor and Sam team up with some old friends to battle some even older vampires.|
A Review by Oliver Thornton 27/3/98
This, for me, is the best of the BBC novels so far. It also heads off the Eighth Doctor's residence in the TARDIS properly. There is a small amount of reference back to the T.V. shows, and possibly to the Virgin books (but I don't know, I haven't read any of them) but not so as to overcast the storyline.
The story builds the characters of the new Doctor and his new companion, Sam, effectively, so that by the time I reached the end, I felt like I had met these people myself. Nobody is introduced purely as a "filler", and the action flows brilliantly through the novel from beginning to end. The Doctor's history with UNIT is recalled briefly, and he finally meets a woman his own age. There is a heightened sense of the danger into which the Doctor brings those who come near him, not saying more in case of "spoilers".
The Doctor's roles as magician and improviser are both impressively brought out, and when he is challenged on whether he had everything planned out before, he asks those around him to choose, "Magic, or magic tricks?"
A perfect way to start a new set of stories, and one of the easiest of the new novels to imagine translated onto the screen.
Another Audition to Script the next Telemovie by Michael Hickerson 8/6/98
As I said in my review of The Dying Days, this is everything the telemovie should have been but wasn't. Kate Orman and John Blum take the best elements on the movie (the use of San Francisco, an old villain, the new Doctor), and vastly expand and improve upon them. Vampire Science is a rousing adventure that grabs you from the first page and just never lets go.
The Doctor and Sam arrive in San Francisco to find some old friends (Jon has some nice side references to his great Time Rift in here) in the form of America UNIT. They also find some old foes--the vampires the Doctor did battle with in State of Decay. Soon, the Doctor and Sam find themselves in a battle to keep UNIT and the vampires from destroying each other and San Francisco in the process.
Jon and Kate's writing style compliments each other well. In fact, I can't honestly tell which scenes were written by which author, they fit togehter so seemlessly. Not that there's really time for looking because the novel unfolds at breakneck, page turning speed. Jon and Kate make great use of Robert Holmes's technique of not having absolute black and whites. The vampires are portrayed as sympathetic at times, even though you know they are the monsters in the novel the Doctor must stop. All of the background characters are well realizes and distinctive. Jon and Kate have an ear for witty, intelligent dialogue and it really shows through here.
One of the greater triumphs is the new eighth Doctor. I haven't yet had the opportunity to read The Eight Doctors, but after having read The Dying Days and Vampire Science, I really like the eighth Doctor. Orman, Blum, and Parkin have taken 90 minutes of screen time and produced an interesting, suprising, and engaging new Doctor. I only hope that the future novels continue this development. If so, I think the BBC eighth Doctor books will be a rousing success as the Virgin NAs were.
Try to Catch a Bite in San Francisco... by Sarah G. Hadley 22/6/98
A British friend of mine sent me this book, long before the BBC books were available in the US, and I looked at it with an amount of trepidation... while Kate Orman is one of the best Virgin NA writers, and Jon Blum's Time Rift is reasonably entertaining, I didn't think even they could do the Eighth Doctor convincingly.
I had read Lance Parkin's The Dying Days, of course, and enjoyed it, but it was far more a Benny/UNIT/Ice Warriors book than an Eighth Doctor book. That seemed totally reasonable, yet left me with reservations about a whole series of Eighth Doctor books... could it be done, and done well? Could the Eighth Doctor emerge as his own, unique character? Would I actually want to read more than one?
As far as Vampire Science goes, the answer is yes, yes, yes. The Doctor comes to vivid life in this story, much more than an augmented Fourth or Fifth Doctor clone; he manages to only barely hang onto the various strands of the plot's web, unlike his last persona, who would have seized those same strands, tied them into a knot, and pulled on either end... hard. It's nice to see such vulnerability in the Doctor, for the Virgin NA Seventh Doctor lacked that quality to no end; it makes the Doctor seem a bit more human, though still so alien.
Sam, unfortunately, is very under-developed, resembling a clone of the early, television Ace, with some Sarah Jane thrown in. This is probably not the fault of Orman and Blum, but the BBC; I find it quite strange that the Beeb would choose a character so like Ace, so soon after taking back Virgin's license.. and yet they did.
Other characters make up for this deficiency: General Kramer is characterized much better in this book, trying to bring Sam to realize how dangerous the Doctor can be, than in Time Rift; Joanna Harris, the head vampire, shows us that not all villains seem evil and can be easily hated; Dr. Shackle demonstrates how reverting to 'the dark side' isn't as clear-cut as Rassilon's ring or Darth Vader. Slake and the other vampires are rather more xeroxed black-and-white, but that may be intentional, since they're completely without any qualities except hatred, greed and hunger. Caroline should have been Grace, as originally planned, but she comes out all right... her boyfriend, on the other hand, is a bit of a wimp.
The story is quite good... but like most of the characters, not very clear-cut. At alternating points, we sympathize with one side, then the other, and the story keeps you guessing. It's the only vampire book I've read that totally succeeds as a vampire book... and deserves a special place of honor on every Doctor Who/vampire/science fiction fan's bookshelf.
If Seeing I is anything like this, it will be wonderful. Bring it on!
A Good, Solid Introduction (Unfortunately) by Robert Smith? 9/9/99
Vampire Science does many things right. It has a fantastic Eighth Doctor -- this is the first book where I can actually hear McGann, suggesting that his Doctor may actually translate to books, given enough care. Originally written for Grace Holloway, cancer researcher Carolyn McConnell is given similarly strong development. She's competent, witty, capable, but also realistic, caught up in the mysterious events of this strange man with two hearts who stands up to Vampires with nothing more than his wits. In fact, I was most impressed with the fact that she wasn't simply Grace with the serial numbers filed off and even more of an interesting character than Grace herself!
UNIT, or rather General Adrienne Kramer (who, in a delightful touch, seems to UNIT's sole representative, outside a few faceless soldiers -- much like the Brigadier in many seventies stories!) is quite well done. However, her only drawback is that she's a little too accurate. I could actually hear Marsha Twitty (from Time Rift) delivering these lines, which is a bit unfortunate, because her delivery was rather flat and slow (which works fine in a fan video but produces something of an odd effect here).
And, in a nutshell, this is one of Vampire Science's biggest problems. It's simply too accurate. Which is wonderful for the Doctor, fine for Grace/Carolyn, a drawback for Kramer and a positive problem for the book's (and indeed the entire line's) largest failure: Sam.
Sam, in case you haven't heard, is a Teenager. Who Rebels. Against her Parents own sixties rebellion. With lots of Angst. Urgh.
The problem with Sam in Vampire Science is that she's simply drawn too accurately. While this is commendable, especially after the cardboard character the previous book saddled her with, teenagers aren't really all that interesting to read about.
For most of us, teenage years were an embarrassment, a time when we did things we'd rather not remember today, (thank you very much). And Sam is a strong reminder of the embarrassments and the sheer cringeworthiness of the worst parts of our own teenage years. Even the fun bits (in the opening chapter) are painful. When she tells Carolyn she'd rather be weird than boring, I nearly threw the book across the room.
While Sam is very derivative (but without the entertaining bits) of Ace, throughout the entire book I was more strongly reminded of another companion -- Adric. Adric was an unlikeable teenager, who was just a bit too close to Johnny Fanboy sitting at home (or at least someone he knew and disliked). In the same way, Sam is an unlikeable teenager who tries so hard to be weird and different (as teenagers do) and goes on about it exactly like every Doctor Who fan once did -- or who knows and dislikes some annoying kid in their local group who does. Alienating your primary audience is not a smart policy.
However, Sam isn't all that's wrong. James, Carolyn's boyfriend, is a little too contrived. I won't give it away for the three or four who didn't see it coming, but his occupation has 'Gratuitous Plot Point' written all over it. The idea of presenting a major character who wanted to get the hell away from the vampires makes sense on paper, but makes for rather dull entertainment. Yes, I know lots of people like James and Sam, but I'd rather not read about them, thanks. Doctor Who can be so much more than just simple entertainment, but it has to be simple entertainment first.
That said, I did actually enjoy Vamp Science! I really liked the plot and the Vampires and the squirrels (okay, hands up who didn't love the squirrels? :-) ) and the Doctor and Carolyn and David and the Doctor and the TARDIS and Abner and the Doctor and Joanna (even if I was rooting for her to kill Sam if she made one more tedious speech. Actually, make that *especially* if!).
Vampire Science has great promise and a lot of it is very enjoyable. Unfortunately, Sam drags the whole thing down terribly (why couldn't Carolyn have been the companion instead?) and that's not something the books need at the moment. They desperately need to be fantastic, like Exodus or Revelation in the early days of the Virgin New Adventures. Vampire Science is a good, solid introduction to the eighth Doctor novels. Unfortunately, it's only a good solid introduction to the eighth Doctor novels.
A Review by Tom Wilton 9/1/00
How I wish that this novel had been the introduction to the BBC range, rather than The Eight Doctors. By no means is this a perfect novel, but it is a lot better than Dicks's effort.
Kate Orman was undoubtedly the queen of the Virgin series and her prose seems to have only been strengthened by her collaboration with Jon Blum. The pace of the novel, along with memorable characters and a defining presentation of the new Doctor, make it all the more irritating that we had to suffer The Eight Doctors before this.
Orman and Blum's handling of the character of the Eighth Doctor is perhaps the highlight of the novel. This is a man who is the antithesis of Virgin?s "Dark Doctor". Perhaps inspired by the delightful "these shoes, they fit perfectly!" sequence of the TV Movie, the Doctor of Vampire Science is character who cares not only about the bigger picture, but also the feelings of the characters standing on the sidelines. Whereas the Seventh Doctor may have been prepared to sacrifice a companion ensure the defeat of the vampires, this Doctor suffers when Sam is injured and simultaneously is trying to handle the emotional problems of Carolyn (the novel's quasi-companion) and her boyfriend.
The vampires themselves are nicely handled, as is the Doctor's moral dilemma in killing them. This forms the crux of the novel and demonstrates the change in the Doctor's character. Whereas his predecessor would have a plan of action prepared before even landing, the Eighth seems to prefer thinking on the hoof, changing his plans when circumstances change. When his attempts to find a peaceful settlement fail, he enters into a dangerous arrangement with the eldest vampire, Slake, in order to buy himself more time to think. In many ways, this Doctor is perhaps more alien than "Dark Doctor", ironically because he appears to be more human than ever. His interest in Carolyn's relationship seems to emphasise how distant he is from experiencing such a thing himself.
The introduction of UNIT forces in Vampire Science is the one signal to the show's history in a novel whose foundations lie very firmly in the TV Movie. This is how I imagine the show would have continued if a series had continued, with the Doctor's Earth-bound adventures being predominantly set in the USA. General Kramer seems to be a replacement worthy of the Brigadier (Alistair or Winifred) and I would welcome a return from her. I think regular characters who are not necessarily companions have proven to work very well in novel form (such as Kadiatu).
The characterisation of Sam is perhaps Vampire Science's weakest point. Obviously built upon the bare essentials given by Terrance Dicks in the previous novel, Orman and Blum's attempts to flesh out the character merely emphasise how little they were given to work with. Whereas they worked a similar situation to their advantage with the Doctor, with Sam they don't quite achieve it. By no means did I hate the character, as many others did (throughout her duration), but rather found her to be quite vacuous in this novel. Fortunately, the "companion gap" was more than adequately filled by Carolyn.
Vampire Science was what the BBC range badly needed after The Eight Doctors. It seemed to serve as a manifesto for what they were aiming to achieve in their series - and it seemed to be a very welcome direction they were taking.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 29/3/00
The first time I read Vampire Science, I remember thinking to myself, "WOW! This is what the Eighth Doctor line should be like..!" And, with a sigh and a wipe of my brow, I smiled contentedly, knowing that Terrence Dicks' greatest failure, The Eight Doctors, was naught more than a ploy on the part of the Faction Paradox, making us believe things truly happened like that... *G*
By story's end, I had my Faith in the Myth and Wonder that is Kate Orman restored, while at the same time I found myself enjoying this Blum fellow's contribution. And, the fact that he was able to make his fan-produced video part of Who-Continuity was quite a bold, and rather cheeky, move that I feel paid off.
So, what of the story? The book opens in what seems to be a handful of days (weeks? hours? Who truly knows when you travel in the TARDIS..) after The Doctor rescued one Sam Jones from drug dealers in the Coal Hill School district of London, Earth, 1980's. The two have begun to form a relationship of sorts, one which even at this early stage in the game shows much potential..
The Doctor and Sam have landed in San Francisco, 1997, seeking out one Dr. Carolyn McConnell, a young woman who sent out a signal cube, seeking The Doctor's help. For you see, San Francisco had a far worse problem on their hands than bad mushrooms at a Grateful Dead concert: Vampires! Will The Doctor be able to maintain his position of neutrality, or will he get caught in the middle of a vampire war..?
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. For me, this was the one that sold me on the whole concept of the Eight Doctor adventures working on a purely literary level. Sadly, it took them quite a bit to iron all the bugs out, losing some fans along the way, but for those of us who stuck with it, the end has surely been worth the wait.
The strongest criticism I have heard from everyone concerning this is that it kinda makes Virgin's Fifth Doctor MA -- Paul Cornell's Goth Opera -- and the sequel-of-sorts, the 7th Doctor NA -- Terrence Dicks' Blood Harvest -- seem to be for naught, as the last of the Vampires were s'posed to be finished off with those two novels. However, I have an answer for that one.. Mind you, it may be a bit fanwanky, but until someone can come up with something better, it is the answer I am sticking with. Here goes: With Lawrence Miles' Alien Bodies and Kate and Jon's Unnatural History we gain a considerable amount of insight into who/what the Faction Paradox is. So, I say this to you: who's to say the Faction Paradox didn't muck about with the TimeStream as far as what is/was known about the Great Vampires? It could happen, and well, there's no reason it couldn't. AND, considering the way things are heading in the EDAs, it seems to be less fanwank and more cold hard facts.
A Review by Quinn Hodges 27/11/00
Coming hot on the heels of The Eight Doctors is a book that is a radical departure for the BBC, in just the second of the new books they have published. A book by old school writer Terrance Dicks which gained its vitality from many past Doctors and villains and companion, is followed by a book from two new writers. Kate Orman is known to Virgin readers but Jon Blum is a new unknown quantity. Not only that, but Vampire Science is a novel in its own right, 100% original, with new villains and a new direction for the series.
What's that, you say? A book about Vampires can't be original! You can argue, but you'd be wrong. The vampires in this book are not the vampires we've seen in other places. They are all individuals -- some funny, some rather mundane, and the "villain" among them is an undead beatnik! Even more impressive, this book was written before TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" showed us all how vampires could be portrayed freshly -- so some of the credit in the vampire renaissance must go to these new authors! I would go so far to say that this "coven" of modern-day vamps could support a whole set of books on their own.
If I had to complain, I would complain about Sam Jones. This is not the companion we met in the last book, the funny witty girl from Coal Hill School. This Sam is more headstrong, and her list of causes is a mile long but only an inch deep. She is not particularly enjoyable to read. Even the vampires don't like her. If you spend a long sequence where the chief vampire cuts down on one of the heroes' beliefs (as the authors have Joanna do to Sam), and the audience cheers, have you really done a good job with your hero?
But Sam is only a small part of the strongest Doctor Who adventure to come along since the early days of the Virgin series. There are many Great Doctor Who moments to savor; for the best of them in this book we will select the Doctor's cooking breakfast for a houseful of San Francisco humans. The 7th Doctor was so often moody and inaccessible, and, at the end of the Virgin series, almost invisible. Here the Doctor has been returned directly, and literally, to his audience, and as a result the audience wants to be in that kitchen eating the Doctor's meal.
Moreover is this book's blueprint for the future. New characters from UNIT US. A heady dose of the same Vancouver-style San Francisco visited in the Paul McGann TV movie -- shot at night, in alleys, on film. A moody setting, complemented by an extensive look at the new (McGann TV movie) TARDIS, with candles and bats and deep, deep archives. Viewed as a new "home base" for the Doctor, this setting could ground the BBC books in the way that the Virgin books lacked the recurring sets and guest stars that feature in current sci-fi TV series. We have seen the future, and it is Doctor Who!
Buffy in San Francisco by Steve Crow 1/4/01
Obviously Blum and Orman are inspired by the TV Movie. And the problem with that is...? What the heck else are they supposed to base "their" 8th Doctor on. But Vampire Science really seems to be a nod to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer crowd (of the TV variety - not the movie). The vampires are either deep ancient obsessed types, or very hip younger types (young for vampires, that is). There's lots of angst to go around.
Since most of the characters are fully fleshed and all, I'll jump to Sam first. She seems fairly interesting to me. It seems so rare that we get a written portrayal of what a companion _thinks_ it is like to be a companion. This is a Sam who is getting the hang of being a companion, for good or for ill. And we get some picture of what's evolving inside her head. Unlike, say, the Virgin companions such as Bernice and Roz and all, who seem to jump fully-formed into the role of "companion" (Bernice in Love and War already knows pretty much what's she going to do to keep the 7th Doctor honest) Sam seems to evolve into the role here, and it's debatable if she is really "into it" by the end.
The 8th Doctor is the same whirlwind of activity with sudden lulls and the occasional darker moments that we see in the TV Movie as well. He's very distinct in this novel, a distinctiveness that is only touched upon occasionally throughout the subsequent books (Lawrence Miles' interpretation, oddly enough, is fairly close to the one Blum and Orman use here). The 8th Doctor doesn't act like a rambling idiot like he does in some novels: he's just operating on too many levels at the same time for everyone (characters and readers alike) to keep up with.
The rest of the supporting characters are adequate or better, except for James. I would tend to agree with the other reviewer who noted that a wet blanket type of character might be reasonable and expected under the circumstances, but he doesn't necessarily make for a good fictional character.
The only problem I find with Vampire Science is that it seems somewhat bound by the constraints of the vampire genre. In other words, the final showdown with the vampires in the theater seems inevitable: both that it will occur, and how the Doctor will win.
But other then that, I would give Vampire Science highest marks.
Bloody marvelous by Peter Anghelides 16/6/02
Here's a review that I posted to r.a.dw in March 1998, as an example of what I hoped were constructive comments.
It's not so much a review, more a collection of thoughts and observations derived from an e-mail that I originally sent to the authors. Because I was writing Kursaal at the time, the BBC provided me with copies of the first handful of BBC DW books -- and I thought it would be a courtesy to let the authors know what I thought. Subsequently, Kate and Jon kindly said they didn't mind me sharing these observations with the newsgroup.
At the time, by the way, my .sig file was a quotation from Ibsen: "To live is to war with trolls in heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgement on oneself."
The authors capture the Doctor really very well. His movement, his appearance, his vocal mannerisms - his relationship with Sam works immediately. On the other hand, I don't understand why they change his eye colour, and he occasionally does some pointless prestidigitation (a vial of blood, a locked door - I dunno, maybe he's practising).
They clearly love the character, but occasionally IMHO this gets a bit OTT: "Everything he touches just gets filled with life", and the whole surreal sequence with the butterfly collection -- a neat idea, and a clever reversal of expectation, but then it all starts to get OTT as the butterflies land on him and there's the stuff about nectar, etc. I started to think of newsgroup posts drooling about the stars of shows, or even those ironic ones about Duchovny -- "When we see you in your red Speedos, We cannot harness our libidoes".
(Much more effective, I'd have thought, to see the DOCTOR'S reaction to the butterflies, rather than theirs to him - they're just insects, after all, and he's not covered in nectar.)
At one stage, we see the Doctor impossibly juggling the whole of breakfast (which I thought implausible). Later, this is used as a metaphor for his control (or lack of), and he burns the brekkie. So now I can't decide whether I like this or not! (I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.)
Things that work really well: the sudden, shocking death of Abner - I risk being OTT myself here, but I jumped when I read the blunt description of Slake's action. (Still quite chilling in recollection, actually!) Slake: great name! Really good dialogue for all the vampires - distinctive voices and vocabulary for a group from a wide historical range, but who interact convincingly.
The whole opening chapter is so well-constructed, I think it could stand as a short story in its own right. Of course, I've long admired Kate's (and now Jon's, too) oblique, discursive view of events, which still place the Doctor centrally in the story. I therefore love the idea that they introduce him and his companion through Carolyn's POV. And they have naughty touches like the lesbian vampires (well, "naughty" in terms of BBC Worldwide!).
I enjoyed the Vampire Squirrels. The concepts are great too -- the balance between the "new vampires who want to behave like old vampires" and the "old vampires who want to find a new way". There's another great balance between Carolyn (should she leave her life and join the Doctor in the Tardis) and Shackle (another great name - and he's wondering if he should leave his life and become a vampire).
How long has Sam been with the Doctor at this stage? She talks about other adventures, and she's gone through three pairs of sneakers. (She'd probably call them "trainers", being a UK girl. Unless she has soft canvas shoes, in which case they'd "plimsoles" or "pumps".) Later, someone bafflingly calls her a "BBC girlie". Would a US person say this? Or would they say "PBS girlie"? etc.)
Great lines: "He hadn't imagined that eternal life would have quite so many cigarette burns in the carpet". Sam commenting, apropos of nothing during their hunt for ice cream: "let's see if we can find some without gelatin". Others too numerous to mention.
Awful lines: what is a voice "like tiptoeing across gravel"? I can imagine that having a cat pay attention to you may be "rare", but is it "precious". (Erm.. perhaps it's "precious" to suggest it ;-) What does the chapter heading "Hurt/Chocolate" mean? "In a moment of terror and wonder, James believed him" (p221, even though he doesn't know what the hell's going on?). "The tall and narrow Doctor" was a bit of overkill, in context. "Possibilities were about all he had" (Suggesting he has no certainties? It read strangely in context. But it's redeemed by having the sun come up - which symbolises a new dawn and a new life for Shackle, while counterpointing the dangers (sunlight) of that new existence.)
Nice sequences (very good for a book): 12-sided cube scene. Strawberry ice cream as an (understated) metaphor for the wonders of living as a human. The Nietzsche vampire who uses a ladder to escape rather than flying off (a wonderful bathetic moment, so prosaic and deflating - great moment!).
Sometimes, the authors tell the reader too much. On p 28, they underscore how normal Sam seems by saying how normal she seems, instead of leaving the contrast for us to work out ourselves. And later, in the wonderfully THEATRICAL sequence at the THEATRE, they do insist on having people think about the sheer THEATRICALITY of it all. Slake's "barbaric yawp" rather pulled me up. Those who recognise the lierary reference will think "that's a bit irrelevant in this context (or alternatively, "I don't think they've found their objective correlative" ;-) Those who don't recognise it will think "what are they going on about?" or even (a different cultural context) "I can't work out why they're quoting from "Dead Poet's Society."
Odd sequence: the Doctor seems to shuttle between Sam and Harris around page 176 for no especially good reason. They also have the Doctor go for a haircut (not sure why - it's an excuse to get them together away from the others, but they're then faced with having to invent a convenient back history for Harris to explain this, and have the Doctor allow a break-in but leave money to pay for it. Maybe I'm missing something. I suppose, if I'm less curmudgeonly about it, it's better than having them meet in a sitting room in a couple of comfy chairs!
Nitpicks: precise times are given for the sequence after Sam has been bitten. But as it's her POV, how can she tell precisely? In the UK, women have handbags, not purses. Would Sam ever consider giving the Doctor a "high-five". Jeepers, they're Americanising things :-) How can someone talk with a mouthful of coffee (p 32)?
Plot puzzler: why would the vamps let Weird Harold survive? He's even more dangerous than the other vamps they killed back in the fifties, surely?
Cover - threw me a bit. The iconography suggests that the vampires are going to threaten the American President (and that's certainly hinted at during the initial killings of US government guys). Despite this unexpected reversal, however, I must commend the authors on the relatively small-scale matter of the story: (a) the Doctor realises it COULD escalate into a much bigger thing, but (b) every life is important to him, and he agonises over each of the individuals and (c) the scale of the story is comprehensible to your average reader. Some of the typography's a bit odd - missing * * * separators at some points, and a clumsy "strip-in" correction on p 163. (Not Kate or Jon's fault, natch.)
Mustn't end on a negative - I'm overwhelmingly positive about the book.
A book of magic by Joe Ford 18/9/02
I knew as I started this book that it wasn't going to be as good as Seeing I. And I was right. But it was an absolutely crucial book in the BBC range. After the insult of fiction otherwise known as The Eight Doctors it was safe to say people were scared that the BBC books didn't have a clue what they were doing. Everything was just wrong about it, bringing back an old hack, the languid prose, the headache inducing continuity, the faceless Doctor, the new companion Sam who seemed to be an amalgamation of the worst traits of Adric, Tegan and Ace thrown together with a little dose of Peri whinginess. It was just dire. What we needed was an original, thought provoking story with marvellously rounded characters and an engaging new TARDIS team. In other words, Vampire Science.
As soon as I finished the first scene which plants you into the book so well I knew this was gonna be good story. The was something wondefully exciting about seeing the eighth Doctor in action and has sassy new assitant Sam helping out. There was more character injected in the eigth Doctor in the first chapter than there was in The Eight Doctors! He is just bloody brilliant, seen mostly through the eyes of Kramer, Sam and Carolyn as manipulative, dangerous and magical respectively. You can already feel Kate Orman and Jon Blum's wonderful feel for this new Doctor taking many of the elements of the telemovie (his gushing enthusiasm, his childlike behaviour, his hidden manic intelligence) and rolling them into something positively fresh and unique. I loved how he walked into the room full of Vampires and threatened to stop them if they didn't agree to his terms. I loved how he kept trying to show Carolyn how dangerous it could be travelling with him. I loved how he threatened to commit suicide to save Sam's life. And I ADORED how he sat alone in one quiet scene amongst the action to chat to Carolyn's cat! It was very promising to have such an endearing, striking protagonist this soon in the range.
But what of poor, rejected, everybody wants to take her out and shoot her Sam? In her first full novel she is a revelation. Only Orman and Blum can take this generic character and make her something special (which they did again in Seeing I and Unatural History). Everything just felt real, her 'I'm the new girl so where do I fit in?', her 'shit I've just been bitten by a Vamp and nearly killed maybe this isn't going to be as fun as I thought?', her 'why is the Doctor being so intimate towards Carolyn' and for once even her 'yes I support every cause going but it doesn't make me a freak!' This was clearly a transition story and perhaps I'm the only one but I believe (at this stage) it was right to take Sam at the end and not Carolyn. She goes through quite a lot in this book and comes across as quite an induvidual (especially her dramatic confrontation with the Doctor as she tries to make him understand that the Vampires are killers and should all be slaughtered). Good, healthy character growth.
And hooray for the usual Orman/Blum secondary characters who are always so realistic! James wanting to get the hell away from the Doctor because of the danger he represents made me cheer! That would be me too! Kramer and her marvellous deadpan humour, not thrown by anything, and trying to convince Sam to re-think her 'wow what a big adventure!' opinion of the situation. And of course Carolyn, sick of her mundane life and craving some of that adventure she felt as a kid, she reminded me a lot of Bernice in her ability to be likable and humane. Even smaller characters such as Slake and Shackle were great, all had some memorable moments. Staking Abhner was one of the high points of the book.
One of the things I really like about this book was the grey areas it explored. Okay so it was Vampire versus human but neither side was portrayed as good or evil, Both had their good and bad sides making the conflict much more thoughtful than it would have been. This being a Vampire tale I was expecting blood and gore and lots of horror... boy was I wrong. Subverting our expectations in the best possible way Orman and Blum make this a character drama with Harris trying desperately to help her people with the least amount of human casualties while Kramer wants to send her troops in and wipe out all the Vampires, caught in a stalemate by the Doctor who has blood-linked with Harris so he has a permenant link to both sides. His frustration at trying to save both sides was rivetting (re-used to stunning effect in Orman's Year of Intelligent Tigers later in the range) and I truly coulcn't see a way of this conflict ending neatly, especially when the younger Vampires started to hunt again. It is these sorts of moral ambiguities that make a novel more than a mere action piece and with both sides adequately rationalised to the reader it is tricky to figure who to side with!
As with all Orman/Blum books it is littered with sparkling moments that reminded you why you became a fan in the first place. The attack on Sam in the nightclub. The Doctor and Carolyn's quiet and charming moments. Sam's discovery of Harrises food source. Shackle's dilemma, his conversations with both the Doctor and Sam and his ultimate decision. While the book rattles along at a far old pace, exciting and haunting, it is filled with such character titbits that you remember long after you've put the book back on the shelf.
Also of note is the confidence of the writing, this is two people writing in unison after all and their seasmless style just screams long term professionals! Their dialouge lifts off the page superbly, crackling with emotion and wit and the prose is probing and quite visual. Many books leave you feeling 'oh well that character could have been tweaked a little' or 'that plot twist could have been explained better' but I put this down this evening feeling quite satisfied that all loose ends were tied and the authors had explored the subject matter to its fullest.
Back when the EDAs began this was a masterpiece compared to a lot of the rubbish surrounding it. It was something really special. Considering this is the sort of book we get every month now is further proof of how superb has been of late. But that's not to knock Vampire Science which is a thoughtful and engaging novel (with a truly excellent cover!) with more standout scenes than I could count.
A Review by Finn Clark 20/2/03
If one overlooks The Eight Doctors (and why not?) then The Dying Days and Vampire Science become the 8th Doctor's launchpad books. In some ways, they're very similar. Both star the brand-new 8th Doctor helping UNIT in 1997, though both also have important stuff going on twenty years earlier in the 1970s. Both have familiar monsters (Martians or vampires). Both are playful and extremely well written. The Dying Days is more iconic, with Benny, Lethbridge-Stewart and the Ice Warriors, but I think Vampire Science is the better book.
Take the UNIT presence. The Dying Days gave us an unashamed blast from the past with the Brigadier, giving him all the old-soldier dignity anyone could ask for. However Vampire Science stars General Kramer, a no-nonsense black battleaxe from Time Rift (Jon Blum's fan video) who would have been completely new to 99% of the book's audience. I loved her! (Ironically she's also the book's biggest link to the past, often comparing the manipulative 7th Doctor she knew with the whirlwind 8th.) She doesn't push our fan buttons like Lethbridge-Stewart, but she's a fresher character.
The vampires are a blast, successfully combining menace with self-mockery (a ridiculously difficult trick to pull off with bad guys). I was on the floor laughing at Slake and Abner, who might be the funniest double-act to date in the 8DAs. Anne Rice pisstakes are always entertaining, and watch out for Fred the Eternal Snail and vampire crack squirrels. At times this is laugh-out-loud funny... yet the vampires never stop being menacing. There's enough meat alongside the candyfloss to fuel the story. (Sidenote: there's even a vampire called Spike! Thankfully it's coincidence; Vampire Science was published in July 1997 and Buffy's second season opened two months later in September, but it's still interesting. The cat called Mina can't be a coincidence, though.)
Vampire lore has been slightly modified, as usual in Who. The Doctor's friends sweat their guts out to develop... a low-grade equivalent of holy water. Ah well. In the secular Whoniverse I suppose they couldn't fill water pistols from the nearest font. There's also something terrifying called bloodfasting; that scene made my eyes stand out on stalks back in 1997. Personally I think these are the best vampires to date in Doctor Who, though in fairness I haven't heard Big Finish's vampire audios.
The Doctor is fabulous, probably still the best 8th Doctor portrayal in the books. The Dying Days simply reproduced McGann's mannerisms a la Gareth Roberts. However the OrmanBlum are going for something deeper, digging down into the character and comparing him with Virgin's masterplanner to sometimes alarming effect. This is where the seeds of the Congenital Idiot were born, but the results are so good that I didn't care. This book is so in love with the 8th Doctor that it's as if the OrmanBlum never thought any other state of mind could exist. I found it charming. (We never saw this again, incidentally; even the later OrmanBlum books were a bit more reactive and defensive about the character. And as for the 8th Doctor himself, no novel would be so much about him until The Burning, by which time McGann's TVM portrayal would be left far behind.)
I didn't quite agree with the Doctor's desperation to save the vampires (complete with a hasty explanation of his merry vamp-decapitations in The Eight Doctors), but I think that's deliberate. There's a lot to be said for Sam's point of view; hunting down and staking all the vamps at the first opportunity might have ended up saving quite a few lives. This Doctor is meant to be slightly scary.
One last point: with all these pseudo-companions (Kramer, Shackle, Carolyn, James), we get to see the 8th Doctor interacting with his friends in a manner that got forgotten once Sam was firmly ensconced as The Companion. Carolyn's plea to travel with the Doctor on p148 elicits a strong reader reaction: "YES!!! TAKE HER! ANYONE BUT SAM!"
Sam Jones. I suppose now's as good a time as any to discuss her.
I just implicitly blamed the OrmanBlum for creating the Congenital Idiot, which is what the character eventually degenerated into in the 8DAs. To be honest, this isn't quite fair. The character we saw in Vampire Science is great, and with a stronger editorial hand could have been taken in all kinds of interesting directions. However much of what went wrong with Sam Jones definitely stems from this novel.
Theoretically Terrance Dicks created Sam, but he did this by writing a one-dimensional outline and then following it up with a one-dimensional caricature in The Eight Doctors. There was so little meat on those bones that a thousand different Sam Jones could have spun off from there. Unfortunately the OrmanBlum reacted against Uncle Terry's unsympathetic view of a left-wing teenage activism and overcompensated. Even if I hadn't read any other Sam Jones novels, I might have thought the early chapters tried too hard to make her look cool. She has insecurities, but they're in all the wrong places. Her beliefs are indestructible, perfect and backed up by enough confident argument to out-debate an intelligent 900-year-old. And she's right! She's never shown to be wrong about anything political. She doesn't seem to have any flaws, gaps or fuzzy areas in her philosophy, despite the fact that: (a) she's seventeen, and (b) she's just had her world overturned by coming aboard the TARDIS. There's no humility or doubt, just an off-putting certainty that feels arrogant.
As usual, Sam becomes more tolerable once the action's under way. Getting bitten and knocked out helps too. Page 86 does much to redeem her, reminding us that she's just a kid, but then p61 (to pick one example) makes her look like a twat. She's obviously trying to be like the Doctor, but when it turns her into a poser and a show-off then I lose sympathy. I preferred the likes of her disagreement with the Doctor about the vampires. That's a good, solid point of view that I can empathise with.
In 1976 she's slick and clever, but even those trademark Sam stupidities are just around the corner. Unlike some readers I didn't have a problem with the scene where Sam goes alone into a ridiculously dangerous situation and ends up being captured and nearly killed. (To save her, the Doctor must do something so suicidal that he nearly dies; a tramp isn't so lucky.) However I can see Sam's reasoning and she can't know that the consequences will affect anyone but herself. No, Stupid Sam can be found in her first scene with Shackle (pp49-50). The guy's clearly a self-indulgent dickhead... so naturally Sam talks him into joining their investigation! Of course he does something dumb at the first opportunity. WHAT WAS SAM THINKING? There was no reason at all for that little speech, except to let her grandstand her oh-so-liberal politics again.
One last comment... "Pop quiz, hotshot"? Were there no British copy-editors to pick that up?
Had Vampire Science not been the first novel in the 8DA line (as opposed to the first collection of words) all this wouldn't have been such a problem. It also didn't help that the OrmanBlum were better than almost all the other writers then working for BBC Books. Had Vampire Science been crap, it wouldn't have been so significant. Unfortunately it's terrific and was thus widely seen as setting the benchmark.
Other matters... the namechecks are annoying, of course. There's the famous line on p44 where Kramer says the Doctor helped out UNIT during the "last quarter of the last century". This was a hangover from when Vampire Science was going to be a post-TVM book starring Grace and thus set in the 21st century. The line's simply a goof. In fact the OrmanBlum actually noticed it at the proofreading stage, but somehow the correction never found its way into the published version. BBC typesetters, ya gotta love 'em.
And on p57 there's a prescient line where the Doctor says he doesn't need any more temporal paradoxes; if nothing else, with hindsight Lawrence Miles's books added resonance to the early 8DAs. If reread in the light of Interference, The Eight Doctors becomes practically spooky.
I like the characters. I think I was meant to care about Shackle more than I did, but James was sensible. I liked him. I believe Carolyn was originally meant to be Grace, but she's clearly her own character rather than the product of a search-and-replace operation. I liked her too. Vampire Science has its problems (i.e. Sam) but it's a delight to read, crafted and polished with loving care. If all the BBC Books had been this good, we'd now have a new novel coming out each week and American distributors beating down the BBC's door for the right to carry Doctor Who books. It's my favourite Kate Orman book by a country mile, though three-quarters of Seeing I is effectively literature. Strongly recommended.
A Review by Steve White 15/10/12
Vampire Science is the second Eighth Doctor novel and I thought it would follow on nicely from The Eight Doctors. Sadly, this isn't the case as the Doctor and his newest companion, Sam, seemed to have already gelled and it is revealed about 40 pages in that they have been travelling together for some time. Given the fact that, at this point, the Eighth Doctor existed solely in novel form, it would have been nice to actually see them get acquainted. I understand it lets other writers slip stories in between, but it still would have been nice to have a slight follow on from The Eight Doctors and allow any future adventures to be slotted in between this book and The Bodysnatchers.
Talking of Sam, this is the first book where she actually gets some character building, as her appearance in The Eight Doctors is limited to say the least. The authors do well to build her up from the get-go, and by the book's end you feel like she has been around for a while and that you know her. Her personality does occasionally grate, but, given she's meant to be fresh out of school and a bit of a political activist, it just goes to show just how good the writers are, as these people tend to grate on you in real life too!
It is also the first story in which you get to see the Eighth Doctor in all his glory (the previous novel he is suffering from amnesia for most of it). Vampire Science sows the seeds of his traits, bits even comparing him directly to the Seventh Doctor. I found this to be very well written, and by the end you have a very good idea in your head of how the Doctor is, and he is very likeable.
The supporting characters all get sufficient build up and all have a purpose. The central character is a doctor called Carolyn and the novel revolves around her, rather than the Doctor. This initially seems odd, until you discover she was actually meant to be Grace from the TV Movie until the authors couldn't get permission to use her. However, Carolyn is written very well, and you do feel as if you have lived her life with her. UNIT is also involved, but the USA arm, and only one character is actually seen, a woman called Kramer. She featured in a fan film made by one of the authors and fits in very well. More of her in the future would be welcome. The only other character of note is James, Carolyn's partner. Sadly, he doesn't come across at all well, and for me was the worst character of the book. He is a little bit of a wimp, which just didn't sit well with me. If my girlfriend was being all brave, then there is no way I'd wuss out and go and live in a hotel until the threat goes away.
Story wise, Vampire Science is very good. The premise in itself makes you want to read, and the story is gripping enough to keep you interested. It starts off a little slow for my liking, but it soon picks up the pace. The first chapter set in the 70s is far too long, so much so that I thought the entire book was set in the past and the cover blurb was a misprint. Basically, there is a big clan of vampires who have been around for hundreds of years keeping to the shadows; however, the younger members have started hunting again and drawing attention to themselves, which causes a rift between the older and the younger vampires. Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers them and tries to help them find a synthetic blood in order to survive. It's all very mature stuff, a far cry from the simplicities of The Eight Doctors, which will no doubt please the more hardcore fans. The only real negative part of this book for me were the vampire squirrels. Quite why this was deemed as a good idea is beyond me and the book wouldn't have been much different without it, or if they were bats. Until this point, the book was serious, so the squirrels made it seem laughable.
In summary, Vampire Science is a very well written, above average Doctor Who novel. However, to say it is worth the 15-20 pounds it sometimes trades for is pushing it. If you can pick it up for under a tenner, then it is well worth the purchase, but I certainly wouldn't mark it down as a must-read for the casual fan.