Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Clockwise Man (Doctor Who: New Series Adventures #1) by Justin Richards

I am going to be upfront and just admit that I am a massive fan of Doctor Who.  Anything even remotely related to Doctor Who immediately catches my attention.  It's still a little while to go until the next series and finding myself going through a serious case of withdrawal, I have decided to give the books based on the series a shot.

The Clockwise Man is the first book in the New Who series.  New Who began when the series was brought back to life after a sixteen year hiatus. Christopher Eccleston played the role of the 9th doctor and had the immense responsibility of introducing the Doctor to an entire new generation of fans.  Naturally, the rebirth of the series spawned a new series of books, allowing the fans to have even more adventures with the Doctor and his companions.

The Clockwise Man takes the Doctor and Rose backwards in time to 1924 London and takes place between the episodes "The Long Game" and "Father's Day" of series one. The Doctor and Rose decide to see The British Empire Exhibition and naturally even a sight seeing trip with The Doctor leads to a mystery which must be solved.  It's not long before not only the Tardis (the doctor's time machine disguised as a police box), his leather jacket and precious sonic screwdriver go missing. It seems that the painted lady has determined that The Doctor is the vicious butcher that she has been looking for.

The Clockwise Man felt quite a bit like steampunk because of the mechanicals in the story.  It did however contain little references to the series for the sake of continuity. For instance, Rose changes completely into to period clothing while the Doctor runs around in his leather jacket with no one batting an eye. There's even a mention of "Bad Wolf," which fans of the series will immediately recognize as a warning to the Doctor that trouble is coming.

Even with all of the little references, The Doctor really felt off to me.  First off, no true Doctor would ever struggle to find a word.  Not only is he fluent in English, he often thinks so quickly that few can keep up with him.  I found myself wondering repeatedly where the Doctor's arrogance, sarcasm and confidence went? Then, there is the issue that in many ways, The Clockwise Man turns the Doctor into an action hero.  Yes, I said action hero.  Instead of outsmarting the bad guy, the Doctor actually gets into a physical altercation and allows someone else to try and save the world using their mind and abilities to shut down some tech. An action doctor is not unheard of (see the 6th doctor and the 3rd doctor); however, that certainly wasn't a part of the 9th doctor's personality.  He didn't even say, "Fantastic" which fans of the series will recognize as the 9th Doctor's catchphrase.  Who is this man?  The answer is, not the Doctor or at the very least, not a proper representation of The Doctor as played by Christopher Eccleston.

I think Richards did a lot better with Rose.  I did however hate the fact that she seemed so complacent and dependent upon the doctor to save her.  In many ways she reminded me of one of my least favorite companion Sarah Jane (note: I am speaking of Sarah Jane in her portrayal in Old Who). Rose however did remain adventurous and warm and caring.  Her relationship with Nicholas Romanov and her desperation to save him really drove her character home for me.

Having lost his jacket, Tardis and sonic screwdriver, The Doctor is forced to shelter with Russian aristocrats living in exile in London.  This is where we meet Repple and Aske, two men who both believe that they are playing the role of psychiatrist to treat the other's mental illness. Repple supposedly believes that he's the Elector of Dastaria and Aske apparently is Repple's jailer.  Quickly it becomes clear that one of these men is lying.  The issue is that they have brought mental illness into their little game.  Mental illness is a difficult thing to live with but for Richards, it is just another twist in his story - something to add drama.  The entire storyline is absolutely ableist.

One of my long standing issues with Doctor Who is it's lack of real inclusion.  Don't start yelling Martha Jones, Mickey, Captain Jack, Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint at me.  Much of the inclusion in the series is incidental at best.  Yes, I know that Martha Jones was a companion of the 10th doctor but she constantly lived in the shadow of the loss of Rose.  Mickey was a joke. Yes, Captain Jack is bisexual but there are only a few hints to his in the series (nope, Torchwood doesn't count) and Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint have shared a single kiss.  I was really hoping that the books would be more daring in terms of inclusion and I am sad to report that is not the case.  Yes, the story takes place in 1924, but that is absolutely no not a reason for Richard to pen such an erased story.   He had room for mechanicals, and exiled Russian royalty, but no room for marginalized people in any way.  I really hope that as the New Series Adventures continues, this will change.

I will admit that I didn't figure out who the antagonist was and it came as a sort of shock to me.  I enjoyed the multiple identities; however, I really wanted to see a more cerebral story. Yes, The Doctor spends lots of time running around and in some identities flailing his hands (yep Matt Smith) but that's all the 9th Doctor seemed to do in this book.  It's as though he was completely stripped of his intelligence and without that, the Doctor is nothing.

I fully recognize that this must have been a tough book to write for Richards, even with Russell T Davies guiding him.  The truth of the matter is that the Who fandom is large and demanding and therefore to be a success, Richards would have to have been pitch perfect.  At comic con this year, Steven Moffat said that everyone wants to be the doctor but not just anyone can play the doctor.  I think that The Clockwise Man reveals that many people want to write Doctor Who stories but very few can write with the right nuance to get both the story and The Doctor right.