turbot: Perfect Tree, Armidale (Default)
[personal profile] turbot
And so I finally tracked it down. This was the book that I saw for 50 pounds on eBay. Elsewhere I found that the shipping price was double the price of the book itself. Long out of print, hard to track down and by all accounts the book where the world of the Eighth Doctor changed.

I really wanted to read this book because I felt it might explain a few things. I missed it the first time through because I was living in a region area where availability and budget meant that I lost track of Doctor Who novels near the end of the NAs. Yet a friend of mine turned out to have bought quite a few, and offered to lend me his books, starting at what he thought was the good bits. So I read every 8DA from Unnatural History, through the Faction arc to Ancestor Cell, then through onto the Earth History arc until Escape Velocity. It was a definite eye-opener and head-trip, huge, scary, sometimes brilliant and occasionally angering. Having read these books without break, I felt mentally exhausted, so changed my emphasis back to other things I had been neglecting. Then late last year I moved to a city, whose library system has a large percentage of MA, PDA, and 8DAs I have missed in the intervening years; but no Alien Bodies, the book that prefaced the entire Faction arc and might through some further enlightenment on proceedings, and was supposedly a classic book to boot.

And now I have finally gotten hold of a copy for nothing thanks to the Queensland Inter-Library loan system. And now has come the moment of truth. Is it any good?

In the first instance, Alien Bodies is an enjoyable read. Words fly off the page; the characters are suitably oddball if nothing else, the setting exotic; a carnival of oddities barely directed by intergalactic Del Boy-style auctioneer Mr Qixotl. Then there are the re-energised, reinvented Krotons. The description of the Krotons besting a ship of Daleks is one of the best twists I have read. The crystalline ones bring a refreshing straightforward honesty to the otherwise underhand proceedings by the other bidders, though this could just be because the Krotons are pretty thick. And then there is the Relic, the object for sale, the enigma, the corpse of the Doctor, regeneration unknown.

If this was a television story, and if the relic was anything other than this particular corpse, then the plot of Alien Bodies would have belonged around Season Seventeen. We would be left with lumbering monsters menacing a group of dysfunctional characters, all very amusing but not very deep. Add the whole Qixotl is probably Drax thing and case closed for the prosecution. Alien Bodies isn’t plot-based per say, it is a manifesto with an enjoyable run-around tacked on. This book sets out the future of the Time Lords.

There are five different groups of Time Lords and related groups present. Scrub out the Doctor and Qixotl and you are left with three: a future High Council, an agent for the future Celestial Intervention Agency, now trading as the Celestis, and the agents of the Faction Paradox, whose roots come from a splinter group of Time Lords. Much has been written about this split, and I would recommend readers who are a bit hazy with it all to read the Faction Paradox Primer in the features section of this site, though you still might come away with your head spinning.

Needless to say that Alien Bodies does a brilliant job of introducing in simple terms the main elements that would shape the book series for the next couple of years. We get an example of the Faction’s power but not a hint of their later plans. The impressively characterised Homunculette, capable and desperate, represents the future High Council, fighting a future war against an unnamed enemy who won’t be unmasked until the rather disappointing explanation in Ancestor Cell. But here, the Doctor’s refusal to discover the nature of an enemy from his own future means that there is no compulsion to need to know who the enemy is actually is at the end of the book. Then there is the fact that Homunculette’s TARDIS walks, talks, can breed, and is named Marie, thus paving the way for Compassion later in the series. This one plot device itself would have helped me years ago when I read the arc, as the creation of Compassion was one of the biggest head-spins I got at the time.

The final Time Lord element is the Celestis, who have removed themselves from the normal, physical universe to avoid a war they predict will destroy Gallifrey. I seem to remember that in the long run the Celestis become overshadowed by the Faction, but purely within this book the nature of the Celestis is handled best, most due to the visit to their domain near the end of the story, as if to show the final depravity that Time Lord culture becomes. Miles sought change for the Doctor Who mythos, and change he gave.

Alien Bodies does contain plenty of nice moments besides being the start of the Brave New World. Qixotl’s attempted wheeling and dealing is beautifully handled, and the scene where he admits to the Eighth Doctor the nature of what is up for auction is one of the best in the series. Qixotl’s other triumphs are his time-shifted ziggurat and his biological defence system, which are nice little details that help colour the book. The Shift is an excellent invention, especially the amusing scenes when the other characters all turn to newspapers or wall cracks to attempt to communicate with it. E-Kobalt the Kroton is a load of fun, especially when it feels ignored during the auction itself. The Faction kids suffer a little, partly because they are generally nasty, but mostly because what they are a bit overwhelmed by what they represent. The only character that doesn’t work is the Kortez, future UNIT (now named UNISYC) agent, who spends all of his time getting New Age and Zen on us, and seems to exist as a reason for introducing the somewhat more important Lieutenant Kathleen Bregman.

The Doctor himself gets centre stage, spending much of the book trying to work out what the hell is going on with only the few clues he allows himself to discover, which is a refreshing change from all of those books where he knows what to do, but spends the entire book locked up or otherwise impeded. His final defeat of the Celestis at the end is a well-worked set piece, the kind you expect but are pleased when they happen.

There are unanswered questions at the end of the novel. The whole Blonde Sam/Dark Sam thing is introduced but left dangling, biodata replaces the NAs psy-power as the underlying pseudo-science of the series and we never fully work out how the Doctor’s future body ends up in the hands of Qixotl. But overall, Miles does bring the book to a sense of closure in and of itself. The Krotons are banished, the Doctor’s body ends up in the right hands and there is no pressing need to find out anything more, which is just as well because taken in sequence, Unnatural History is still many books away.
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