1-903899-14-6 (standard hardback)
1-903899-15-4 (deluxe hardback)
|Featuring||The Second Doctor, Ben and Polly|
|Synopsis: It's the Summer of Love, but a new drug is destroying everything.|
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 20/5/03
Mark Chadbourn was here given the brief to write a "Mark Chadbourn story with Doctor Who in it", rather than a Dr Who story by Mark Chadbourn. As a result what we have here is one of those often infuriating pieces of DW merchandise, in which the Doctor is not the main focus.
That focus belongs to Summer - the narrator of the book. She describes the events of early 1967, when she was in San Francisco, surrounded by hippies - where free love, peace and drugs were all the rage. I do get infuriated when the Doctor is not the main character, he should be in a DW book - but hats off here to Chadbourn for the character of Summer. Her personality shines through this story, whether it is the Summer describing the events of 1967, or the Summer who is describing her life in present day turn of the 21st Century. This mixed up cookie, sceptical about everything, is a fabulous voice for this extreme chapter in world history.
Mark Chadbourn effectively describes the atmosphere that must have existed in San Francisco during 1967, when the summer of love was imminent. This isn't a nostalgia infested book though - the bad and the good are brought forward. I really feel I have more insight into that period of history as a result. Through the eyes of Summer this extreme way of living really seemed real.
The Doctor's involvement is an interesting one. Coming across often closer to the 7th Doctors distant personae of the New Adventures, he seems to ignore Summer most of the book - only to visit her in a later incarnation at the books conclusion, showing he really did care. His efforts to prevent disaster all occur away from Summer's writing - showing again this is a Summer/Chadbourn book, with the Doctor as guest star.
The choice of companions would seem a trifle obvious. Polly, more than any other companion, represents this phase of History. Ben is there too, the 2 being part of the TARDIS team of that era. So it's a book set in early 1967, featuring the Doctor and Companions of that very era. Strange then that Polly and Ben don't seem to fit in that well. The contrast between the world that DW presented in 1967, and reality was too far a chasm to bridge.
As a social commentary of the late 60s Wonderland works brilliantly. As a DW story it is less successful, even coming across quite X-Files towards the end. But I like the X-Files so that's not too bad a thing.
My lasting memories of the novella would be the author's grasp on what made this era so unique. What made it so bizarre. The no-punches-pulled nature of much of the novella is a honest portrayal of this. I would deem this another fine success for an increasingly impressive range. 8/10
A Review by Finn Clark 30/5/03
I'm a bit ambivalent about the Telos novellas. Leaving aside the rubbish ones, they've tended to fall into two categories: (a) quite good I suppose, and (b) Kim Newman's Time and Relative. My problem is that "quite good I suppose" isn't what I'm looking for in these slim hardbacks. I want something special. The BBC Books in 2002 were better, more interesting and more innovative than Telos's four 2002 novellas, which some might say is the wrong way round. Admittedly the BBC had nineteen full-length novels to play with, but if you're buying Telos's deluxe editions then each publisher's total output would have cost you about the same.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I think Wonderland might be my second-favourite Telos novella to date. Maybe. I'm still undecided.
My reservations mostly concern the Doctor. I have no objection to Dark Troughton, who's always fun, but this Doctor is insensitive, thoughtless and largely oblivious to the heroine's distress. Uh-uh. Nope. Sorry, I don't buy it. Not in his second incarnation. It helps that he's kept offstage for much of the book as in Cartmel's War trilogy (Ben and Polly acting as his representatives), but it still felt wrong for Troughton. Mark Chadbourn emphasises the Doctor's alien nature in heavy-handed ways we've seen done better elsewhere, but I might have reacted better to them had I found his portrayal intriguing or plausible in the first place. There must be thousands of ways to write a scary, enigmatic Doctor, but this could be the most ill-chosen of them all.
As an aside, this is far from the first Telos novella to keep the Doctor offstage and mysterious. It's becoming a trend. However Kim Newman and Dave Stone did it with the 1st and 7th (good choices) respectively and in both cases 'twas an important part of the book. Wonderland gave me the impression that it was shoving Troughton out of the way because he would have been a fifth wheel in most scenes.
Polly and Ben were interesting. Putting them in a 1967 flower-power context allowed us to see them through then-contemporary eyes, so instead of just being "a sixties Cockney" Ben arguably became more alien to Jessica Willamy's worldview than the Doctor himself. I can't say that I found much depth in their characterisation, but that's not unforgivable. We're talking about Ben and Polly here. They did what they had to do in the book and worked fine.
What's great is the book's 1967 Haight-Ashbury beads 'n' bangles groovy kind o' love. There's something irresistible about the notion of the Season Four TARDIS crew interacting with the culture into which their shows were being broadcast. Yes, I realise that The Faceless Ones and Evil of the Daleks use a contemporary setting, but that was Squaresville, c/o BBC TV Centre, and I'm talking about counter-culture. It's intoxicating to imagine the Doctor of The Macra Terror going to town on bongs, free love and anti-Vietnam protests. It's such a fantastic idea that I can't believe it's never been tried before. (The Left-Handed Hummingbird and Revolution Man don't count.) Wonderland doesn't quite follow through on the Doctorish half of the equation, but we get at least 70% of what I was imagining and that's still pretty good.
I can't complain about the sixties setting. The afterword claims that Chadbourn is noted for his extreme research and here he evokes his chosen era in impressive detail. On a simple nuts-and-bolts level, I never doubted the frills and details: musicians, poets, street signs and drugs. We get the hippy idealism, but also a proto-X-Files conspiracy phreak's view of Who Really Runs The World that's no less characteristic of the 1960s. In a more grounded book one might have coughed and spluttered at that, but in the psychedelic worldview on display here it's completely in tune. It feels like an authentic time capsule, perpetrated in 1967 by some brain-fried space cadet and only now uncovered four decades later.
And most importantly, the book has Opinions about its chosen era. Chadbourn is taking a hard look at featherheaded sixties idealism, contrasting it with a harder, more cynical point of view that's hammered home in some pretty bleak framing sequences set in a later decade. I won't give away where the book ends up with respect to this argument, but our journey to get there takes in some pretty dark scenery. This hippy paradise has all kinds of serpents - not just the fascist pigs and bread-heads, but self-serving sacks of slime like Goblin. The result unfortunately is to undercut the sixties idealism on display. All these "it's the revolution, we'll change the world" kaftan-wearers look pretty stupid, really. In fairness they were stupid. The sixties was an era of laughable mush-for-brains and it's hard to get around that, but I might have loved Wonderland had it truly engaged with hippy philosophy and sold me on its good points instead of undercutting it.
Overall I found this novella interesting, more than any since Time and Relative. The plot's a bit of an afterthought, but that doesn't matter. Its Doctor Who-ish bits are comfortably the book's least successful elements, which is more of a problem, but eventually I forgave that too. I really liked the ending, which builds up to a weighty conclusion instead of the usual hasty wrapping-up of loose plot threads, and there's some nice mood on display. The definitive flower-power era Doctor Who story still hasn't yet been written, but Wonderland is an interesting and different excursion into the territory.
A Review by John Seavey 10/7/03
Ideally, stories should work on two levels. On the first level, they should work as a recounting of events -- a "plot" level. But, in addition to that, a story should also present some deeper comment on the human condition, a "theme" level that gives the work some greater resonance. I'm happy to say that Wonderland, by Mark Chadbourn, does an excellent job at both.
The story is fairly straightforward; top-secret government scientists using alien bio-mass to produce killing machines. (And isn't this a great genre that I can call that a "straightforward" story?) It's told well, presents itself as an interesting mystery, and if that was all Wonderland did, it'd probably still be enjoyable. The Doctor's characterization seems somehow subtly off, but that's not the first Who story with that flaw, especially when discussing the Second Doctor.
But where Wonderland excels is in its characterization of Summer, the book's de facto protagonist, and in the way it uses the tainted LSD that transforms hippies into invisible killers as a metaphor for the corruption of the ideals of the sixties, and the eventual dissolution and destruction of the movements it spawned. As Summer narrates the book, all the while hiding from some unknown foe and planning suicide, we see how the Be-Ins and the Summer of Love and all the rhetoric never managed to change human nature. People stayed predatory. People hurt others. People sold out. And yet, in the end, there's hope so long as good people keep fighting. It's a nice message, it's well-told, and it's got some gorgeous prose. This is probably the best Telos novella since Time and Relative, and I'd highly recommend it.
A Review by Henry Potts 17/7/03
While there's plenty of speculation about certain forthcoming Who releases, I have no doubts about who has been making the best Who so far this year: Telos. Wonderland is another successful novella, delivering a strong story against a backdrop of effective imagery. The pacing over the novella length and the prose are spot on.
Wonderland has a classic Who story structure -- the Doctor and co. as strangers who come into the protagonist's life at a crisis point and help solve the problem -- and Chadbourn juxtaposes that structure very well against his setting. Visits to the US remain rare in Who prose, but San Francisco in the summer of love comes alive. Although they work well, there's not a whole lot of room in a novella to explore Ben and Polly. However, we do get a striking picture of the 2nd Doctor: his views of the hippie culture around him are touching, while reminding us of his alien nature.
Wonderland is also a novella about symbolism and my one slight criticism would be that the symbolic use of elements of Who continuity seemed rather simplistic compared to the sophistication of the writing in other ways.
Trippy, man by Robert Smith? 31/3/04
This is the second Telos novella in a row that has a young girl providing first-person narration, a vividly-drawn setting that's almost a character in its own right and a hurried resolution kept entirely offstage from the narrator. As house styles go, it's not perfect, but I must admit that it is producing some pretty impressive books.
Wonderland, of course, is a much more adult novel than Rip Tide. Which isn't an insult to either book; where Rip Tide was a fun throwaway adventure in the best tradition of... well, whatever you were reading when you were ten, Wonderland deals with scary adult stuff, like the inability to trust and idealism gone sour. Oh, and sex and drugs and violence and stuff like that, but by this point the "Doctor Who story has drugs in it, shocka!" books are almost a sub-genre in their own right, so let's not dwell on that.
The present day sections are heartbreaking in the bleak view they paint of what happens when you take all that sixties hippiness and simply add forty years of mundanity to it. The novella absolutely needs these sections, brief as they are, to raise it above the bog-standard adventure fare it would otherwise be. Rip Tide was virtually flawless, in the most technical sense of not doing anything actually wrong, whereas this book has some very fundamental problems, but this is a perfect example of a book that's aiming higher and trying to be about something. I know which one I'll remember more as time goes by.
Haight-Asbury in 1967 is fabulously drawn. The introduction promises much in this regard and Chadbourn delivers admirably -- which is probably fortunate for him, as they were doubtless written in reverse order. Then there's Summer, both then and now. She's immediately untrusting of the Doctor, which means there isn't nearly as much of a gulf between the young and old Summer as she probably thinks. The first person narration works a lot better this time around, given the character arc we see when comparing the two timezones.
Then there's the long-awaited appearance Denny, which is a superb plot twist. It's the best kind too, because I'd already guessed he wasn't dead and would pop up later in the book, but the way he does is fabulous.
Unfortunately, there's also a lot that doesn't work with Wonderland, which I guess is the price you pay for aiming high. First and foremost is the Doctor, who is just plain wrong. Oh, shock of shocks, a second Doctor novel that doesn't get it's lead character right. You could have blown me over with a feather. Will the books ever recover from such a thing? But unlike most of the half-hearted attempts we usually get at imitating Patrick Troughton's ad-libs, this time around the Doctor's wrong in a completely different way. He's so far from either the second Doctor on TV or the oh-my-giddy-aunt caricature of most second Doctor novels that you almost want to award points for effort. It's not quite as bad as the Ghost Ship Doctor, but it's still pretty off-kilter.
The fourth Doctor cameo at the end isn't too hot either. I'm also a bit confused why the fourth was chosen for the ending. At least with the second Doctor you've got the thematic resonance of dumping the 1967 TARDIS crew into the melee that 1967 is actually remembered for. Which, it must be said, is part of the brilliance of the book. But using the fourth in the present day, for what is a pretty serious scene, doesn't quite work for me. I think a more serious Doctor was needed here, such as the seventh, or a non-amnesiac eighth, to counterpoint the change of timezone. I realise it's only one scene, but if you're going to switch Doctors in your story, you need to do it in a way that's thematically meaningful or else it's just fanwank.
Speaking of fanwank... for the love of the Borad there's some painful stuff here. In quick succession we get a Cyberman head, a Menoptera and a piece of WOTAN. And okay, yes, they do turn out to symbolise change. Big whoop. They're still incredibly contrived. Compared to the maturity in the rest of the novella, this just seems childish. Come back Rip Tide, all is forgiven.
Then there's the plot, which is so flimsy that Summer ties it up with a "and then the Doctor did whatever he did to fix it while I was elsewhere" which is so brazen it's almost funny. Almost. I'd be tempted to speculate that you can't have everything in a slim tome like a novella, so maybe we should be satisfied with the setting, theme and one fabulous character, at the cost of the regulars, the plot and some continuity missteps. But I've read Time and Relative, which proves that you can have it all, so I'm not buying that excuse.
On the other hand, credit where it's due, because I suspect the quote on page 25: "We've got supermen from the stars coming here in times past to be our gods and Atlantis calling out" might be a forward reference to Fallen Gods. Which is pretty neat if so. But how does Summer know Ben's name on page 14, two full pages before being introduced to him? Must be one of those clever and subtle hints about an unreliable narrator writing from a future perspective. Something's unreliable, at any rate.
Wonderland is another winner from Telos, no question. It's the second best novella yet, pretty much by default, although that's no slight to the others. It's within editing-reach of greatness, but it's not quite there, which is far more disappointing than it should be for something so promising. A few more drafts and this could have been outstanding.