The Highest Science
The Well-Mannered War
|ISBN#||0 426 20506 5|
The Leisure Hive
|Synopsis: For 176 years, the people of Trangus have been involved with a phoney war with the neighboring Chelonian Empire. But when the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 arrive, they discover the government in turmoil, an election at hand, and the phoney war teetering on the brink of becoming real.|
A Review by Robert Smith? 25/3/98
The Well-Mannered War is the third of Gareth Roberts' season 17-esque Missing Adventures and in some ways it's his best, although it's a little different to the others (despite appearances from about halfway through). As usual with Roberts' books, there are plenty of amusing goings-on. The fourth Doctor is as magnificent as he can get in the books, Romana wears a gorgeous frock and K9 gets far more to do than he should!
However, the jokes are a little on the thin side, especially towards the end, as Roberts takes the novel in more serious (though still fun) directions. We get the return of one or two very interesting old aquaintances and the plot becomes rather more than we were expecting.
Of course, this is the last Virgin MA and the ending is... interesting at the very least (the last scene in particular is priceless). I wouldn't have thought the MAs could be tied up as the NAs were with the post Psi-Powers arc, Lungbarrow and The Dying Days, and they can't really, but Gareth comes up with something fairly clever. It's a bit of a sad legacy of the MAs that the ending does far more justice to the line than they probably deserve.
A Review by Jill Sherwin 29/9/99
"That's him, isn't it?"
"If it isn't it's somebody wearing his hat."
Okay, so despite my very best efforts, I enjoyed this book. By all reasonable methods of analysis, I shouldn't have, but mark it up to a guilty pleasure, I did.
Things that this book had going against it:
And yet . . . and yet. . .Romana 2 wasn't annoying here at all. In fact she was both spot on, character-wise, yet at the same time, she was better, less haughty, more practical. She was almost charming!
The Fourth Doctor was appropriately wacky and occasionally quite funny, i.e. in the middle of a battlefield he sits down and pulls out a copy of a pamphlet titled "So You're Caught In A Rocket Attack". I could totally picture Tom Baker doing this. Yes, the wackiness seemed forced at times, as if the author, when not trying to further his plot says to himself, 'oh yes, he'd say something irreverant here, what shall I put in now?' Still, it was a respectable attempt and at no time was I jarred out of the story due to a non-Bakerism.
I was, however, consistently jarred by K-9's complete failure of 'realistic' dialogue, as if Roberts just shrugged and gave up and forgot to bother with his distinct speech patterns. That was disappointing and not even the 'by-the-way-this-is-why-this-happened' ending made the sloppiness in writing K-9's dialogue work for me.
Back on the plus side, the story itself surprised me several times as it lulled me into expecting one thing and then tossed in a very clever quick-turn in directions I didn't see coming.
Taking place between the formerly lost Shada and leading well thematically into The Leisure Hive, the plot finds the Fourth Doctor, K-9 and Romana 2 (the Lalla Ward edition) caught on a battlefield in disputed territory between a group of far future humans and Chelonians. Part of the mystery involves the distinct lack of cultural and technological advancement in either of these races given the date in future history that this take place. As Roberts makes the Chelonians so sympathetic, yet the humans so harmless, the reader is hard-pressed to take sides, so a third party is provided appearing to manipulate both sides in the conflict. But are they the bad guys either?
Roberts weaves quite a few layers and subplots through this book, including an homage to seventies superhero foils the 'Fembots', turning them in this story into 'Femdroids', servitors of the humans with a secret agenda of their own. Again, to my shame, I must admit this was a silly fun book. Where else would you find K-9 running for political office in a subplot attempting to expand his character as the previous MA's have expanded the other companions' personalities? Or discover the truly terrifying fate of death by Xerox machine?
Don't torture me anymore -- I confess! I liked it, despite its slower moments. Are you satisfied now?
This is the last of the Virgin imprint Doctor Who Missing Adventures and I'm quite sorry to see them go. Even though BBC books is using many of the same authors, I'm concerned that the editors in that company lack the commitment to and enthusiasm for the Doctor as we know and love him, that Peter, Rebecca and co. have consistently illustrated, particularly in the MA line. My hats off to them and my thanks. The MA's may not have been perfect, or canon or even always agreeable, but they've kept the Doctor alive and hopefully even brought new fans into the fold. MA's, I'll miss ya.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/5/01
Despite being the last Virgin MA, The Well-Mannered War ends the series on a high with a story from Gareth Roberts not too dissimilar to The Armageddon Factor (minus The Key To Time subplot). Compared to his previous offerings, this is weaker, although it is still very enjoyable. Part of this is due to Roberts` excellent writing and the involvement of the Chelonians, a race surely destined for the Big Finish audios. The only thing I found slightly off-putting was the use of politics in the plot; this doesn`t detract from what is essentially a celebratory book and a great one at that. 9/10.
A good finale by Tim Roll-Pickering 31/5/02
The very last of Virgin's Missing Adventures is written by perhaps the single best author for the range. Gareth Roberts' previous books The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death were both exceptionally popular with fans and showed an excellent grasp of how to write an adventure supposedly set during Season 17. By once more using the familiar team of Tom Baker's Doctor, Lalla Ward's Romana and K9, Roberts further refines his sold grasp on the characters and presents a story that it is very easy to imagine having been made for television back in 1979. Indeed such is Roberts' skill at describing scenes that it is possible to visualise them, complete with Season 17 style sets and effects.
The plot of The Well-Mannered War is as outrageous as anything found in this era of the show but these elements are all handled so that they come across as a natural part of the story rather than as a send up. The long running stalemate in the war between the humans and the Chelonians can easily be seen as a parallel of the real-life situation in Korea where the North and South remain officially at war with one another but officials carry out cordial relations across the line. The parody of British politics and the highly negative nature of much election campaigning was highly topical when the book was published (officially just a few weeks before the 1997 General Election) but it remains hilariously funny all these years later. The story is populated by a strong mix of outrageous characters, from Fritchoff the dreamy revolutionary socialist who is familiar to anyone who has ever witnessed student politics in Britain (an almost literal example of 'undergraduate humour'!) to Harmock, the Premier of Metralubit who is a parody of politicians obsessed with spin, reports, opinion polls and staying in office over making any real change. The book also sees the return of Menlove Stokes from The Romance of Crime, who serves as a more intentionally comic character, concealing his true motivations until the end of the novel.
Plotwise the book is relatively straightforward until the twist at the end. It is structured into four parts and making it all the easier to imagine it as a television adventure. Roberts has clearly inspired by the 1970s Target novelisations, with a footnote on page 96 reading '* See Doctor Who - The Romance of Crime' whilst the very first page of the book recycles the old 'The Changing Face of Doctor Who' tag explaining the difference in the Doctor's appearance on the covers of different novelisations. Even the limiting of the chapters to twelve, with three per episode, is another throwback to the old Target days. As the last Missing Adventure of all this is a highly appropriate strategy.
The ending is a real surprise and it raises the question of whether or not anything from Season 18 onwards truly counts. The encounter between the Doctor and the Black Guardian makes sense at this stage in the series and provides a strong justification for many of the novel's more outrageous concepts. There's a rehash of some old continuity but it is used to maximum effect and comes along with the Black Guardians statement 'I care nothing for such concepts' when he is told he is 'dabbling with the forces of continuity.' The final page as the Doctor and Romana make their goodbyes serves as an excellent ending to the Missing Adventures as a whole, as well as the ending to an era before the radical changes that occurred for the series in The Leisure Hive. This novel is one of the best Missing Adventures of all and a good finale for the range. 10/10
Gareth Roberts strikes again by David Massingham 26/11/03
I'm a big fan of Gareth Roberts. I've read all of his novels bar The Plotters and The Romance of Crime, and with the exception of Zamper, I've loved the lot. In fact, The English Way of Death is my favourite past Doctor story (in either the Virgin or BBC range), and The Highest Science is my second favourite NA (nothing can topple Nightshade from its throne!). So, when I heard BBCi had made the excellent decision of publishing The Well-Mannered War online, I readied my printer for some terrific reading. And I was not disappointed.
There is something particularly cosy and nostalgic about the season seventeen TARDIS crew. It is far from my favourite season, but the tone of that year works well more often than not -- generally thanks to Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and K9. Some of the stories just needed to be a tad bit stronger; and if we had Gareth Roberts about in 1979 to bang out a couple of choice scripts, I suspect this year would be more highly regarded than it is. The Well-Mannered War fits perfectly into the style and tone of the seventeenth year, and I would have loved to have seen this on the screen. I suspect the Chelonians look better in my head than they would on a 1979 budget, but otherwise, this book could have easily been translated to the box. One suspects that Roberts has this as one of his aims. He seems to take the term Missing Adventures quite seriously -- he writes a story that would fit perfectly with his chosen era. This is why so many people love his three MAs.
Firstly, he gets the Doctor, Romana and K9 spot on. This is Tom and Lalla solving a mystery and escaping danger. As Jill Sherwin mentioned above, there is a wonderful Baker-esque moment where the Doctor, in the middle of a war-zone, sits down and pulls out a "So you're caught in a rocket attack" pamphlet and begins to read. The Well-Mannered War is littered with little gems like this, and to the author's credit, it very seldom seems forced. Romana is captured almost as well, with scenes of her on Metralubit investigating the planet's history ringing very true to character.
However, the real coup is K9. I have NEVER enjoyed the robotic mutt as much as I have in this story. He actually gets something to do! How can you not love a novel where K9 runs to become leader of a planet? K9 in politics... it shouldn't work, but Roberts just manages to make it believable, playing up on the dog's smug nature and tying his actions in with some later plot developments. It does require a slight suspension of disbelief, but trust me -- take that leap! The story is so much more enjoyable when K9 is embroiled in political debates with Harmock, the sleazy Premier of Metralubit.
The central conceit of this book, involving a war where both sides get along like a house on fire, is an excellent premise and one that is taken to its logical conclusion. I wish that the author had perhaps wallowed a tad bit more in this idea, as the pesky plot does come in (as I suppose it has to), and changes the dynamic between the two sides. I shouldn't begrudge a forward-moving narrative; I simply loved the execution of this simple plot idea, and would have liked to have seen a few more scenes of pleasant nothings being exchanged by the Human and Chelonian armies. This said, when the plot gets moving, it is hard not to get carried along for the ride. Gareth Roberts has constructed a simple yet attractive storyline, which is sure to pull you in.
Secondary characters and many and varied. Most of them are cardboard cut-outs, but they needn't have been anything more. Some of them are almost entirely superfluous to the plot -- Fritchoff is one such example, but the character is so hilariously ridiculous that I can't imagine the story without him. Dolne and Jafrid are both captured well, the two ably demonstrating the friendship between the two forces. On Metralubit, Harmock is painted one-dimensionally as a self-obsessed coward, but once again, no other characteristics are needed. Menlove Stokes, reportedly a character created by Roberts in The Romance of Crime, is probably the most fleshed out of the lot, and as a result, gets the lion's share of "screen-time" and memorable dialogue.
The story does get a bit pear-shaped towards the end... the final chapter introduces a new menace, who has been pulling strings behind the scenes all along. This is where the reader really needs to take a leap of faith, as some of the revelations here do push the believability barrier a bit too hard. I just about bought these final developments, and it is made up for by the final moment, which is both original and surprising. Thankfully, this end to the novel leaves the reader as they were in the first chapter -- wallowing in nostalgia and a cleverly crafted story. Not Roberts' best, but still one of the finest MAs full-stop.
9 out of 10
A Review by Finn Clark 15/9/04
You know, this isn't very good. I'm surprised to hear myself say that, too.
I have huge respect for Gareth Roberts as a comedy writer, but his bread-and-butter storytelling often needed work. The Well-Mannered War is too much of a downer to fly as a comedy, but too silly and trivial to grab you dramatically. Its first act is glorious, with some of Gareth's funniest ever material, but once we get stuck into the Barclow situation the book becomes too bleak and pessimistic to raise more than the odd smile. Gareth ends up obviously aiming for doom-laden atmosphere as a deliberate carpet-pull for anyone who'd been expecting another jolly MA, but unfortunately as a straight novel this novel isn't strong enough to stand without its comedy.
Don't get me wrong though; when this book is good, it's great. I was on the floor throughout the first few chapters... Viddeas the uniform fetishist, the cosy Jafrid-Dolne relationship, Gareth's insane Doctor, etc. Dolne and Jafrid were pretty much the only people I cared about, but I genuinely liked them. There are also some good jokes about mindless office life translated into a warzone.
Unfortunately I also found it hard to put much emotional investment into the characters and their situation. It's the end of the universe and they're stuck on a worthless rock in space, plodding through the motions of a meaningless, never-ending war. Amusing: yes, sometimes. Thrilling: no. Let me put it this way... Barclow was so dull that I couldn't even imagine it being filmed in a quarry. It wasn't interesting enough even for that. No, this feels like a leftover BBC corridor from Timelash or The Armageddon Factor, while obviously it's hard to be interested in the progress of a war that even the combatants don't care about.
There's the Darkness and its chilling desire to kill, which is almost too effective as a menace! The Well-Mannered War is populated by comedy buffoons rather than dynamic protagonists, so one subconsciously expects a walkover for evil. No one bar the TARDIS crew would even slow it down. Thus there's little suspense or excitement; you're just waiting for everyone to die. Maybe it's just me, but I found that kinda depressing.
The election stuff must have looked great at the synopsis stage, but it falls flat. We know it can't go anywhere. K9 didn't leave the TARDIS for a term of office as Prime Minister of Metralubit... but on the other hand, his rival Harmock is too much of a pillock to take seriously. Besides, the idea isn't milked as it perhaps should have been. If you're going to include a "K9 runs for political office" subplot, do more with it than this! K9 and Harmock throw a few lame insults at each other, but that's about it. Soon it's back to the main plot again.
The Chelonians are underwhelming. Book by book, they'd been getting watered down from The Highest Science's psychopathic parasite-crushing loonies. In Zamper, they're over the hill and grasping for past glories. In The Hungry Bomb (1995 Yearbook), they sit down with the Doctor to dinner. And now, in Gareth's final novel, they're simply another gaggle of reptiles with little to distinguish them from any other green-skinned aliens. They're short-tempered. That's about it. I liked Jafrid, but that's because he's Jafrid rather than because he's a Chelonian.
Despite all that, however, I shouldn't get too down on this novel. It is funny. Even when everything else is falling apart, Gareth's Season 17 TARDIS crew is a joy to behold. In a sense it's unintentionally faithful to the Graham Williams era, in which scintillating performances from the regulars would often redeem undercooked stories. I didn't care about any incidental characters except Dolne and Jafrid, but 'twas always fun seeing the Doctor, Romana and K9 interact with them. In fact Gareth's regulars are so dazzling that I thought this book was great when I first read it in 1997! If you're looking for another vote of confidence, BBCi chose it to be one of their online novels, complete with illustrations and author's commentary.
I've criticised the guest cast, but at least they're larger than life. Give me a vivid caricature instead of a cipher any day. Apparently Gareth imagined Dolne as Patrick Macnee, "doing his amiable old buffer". That never occurred to me during the book itself, possibly because the front cover picture of Dolne is practically the anti-Macnee (thin and weasel-faced), but I can kinda see it now.
Then there's The Ending. (No, no, it's not just an 'ending'. This is Virgin's equivalent of what happens at the end of Interference; the author's commentary on that last chapter or two read as if Gareth is channeling Lawrence Miles.) Everyone knows about The Ending. Many people have strong opinions on it, but personally I thought it was great and the only point after the opening chapters where the book came alive. Gareth's moody Tom is fantastic and there's real building menace in those closing pages. The big revelation could easily have come across as laughable, but instead it has one hell of an impact.
Of course there's a problem fitting it into continuity, but we have various options, including:
(a) It means what it says. You're in luck if you don't like the JNT era!
(b) It's a cliffhanger ending like The Dominators or Frontios and we just haven't seen the story in which the Doctor and Romana get out of it again.
(c) All that time-spiral stuff at the start of the book did something bizarre and timeslipping which the end of the book simply puts right. Somehow. Uh. No, don't ask me for details.
Overall, this book is a curate's egg. It's full of good stuff, but Gareth's aiming for do something to which he's not particularly well suited. The plot has a couple of ingenious twists, but mere revelations do not a strong story make. However when this book's good, it's fantastic. Even a misfiring Gareth Roberts is more entertaining than many authors at their best. Despite everything, I enjoyed it.