Thursday, January 7, 2016

Doctor Who: The Deviant Strain (Doctor Who: New Series Adventures #4) by Justin Richards

A soviet era nuclear naval base has been abandoned.  The town surrounding it is surviving essentially at a subsistence level.  There is something far more dangerous than the radiation leaking from the subs.  It's been there quite a long time sending out a message for help, which Captain Jack inadvertently answers forcing him, Rose and the Doctor to ride in for the rescue. Though their Russian is perfect, at least one person knows that there's more to the arrival of the threesome than their cover story implies.

I love Doctor Who with a ridiculous passion but that being said, this book left so much to be desired. Because Eccleston was only the Doctor for a short time, these stories are precious.  After all, who doesn't want a bit more of the Fantastic?  Unfortunately, this book is almost painful to read.  It's a scant 256 pages and yet felt like a tome that was never going to come to an end.  This is the first of the Doctor Who books that I almost gave a DNF rating.

When the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack arrive, they discover one young man dead and his girlfriend Valeria drained of her youth.  She is nothing but a husk, with no ability to communicate and absolutely incapable of taking care of herself. Because this is not the first time something like this has happened, townspeople have become suspicious and actually blame Vourdalk - a vampire from Russian folklore.  That sounds interesting doesn't it?  Naturally, it cannot possibly be Vourdalk as we discover when the Doctor begins investigating. Nope, it's all about aliens, glowing blue blobs and zombies.  It seems some people decided that they want to live forever.  The story takes a massive turn and feels like a bad rip off of Stephen King's Tommy Knockers.  Since King already told this story and brilliantly at that, inserting the Doctor does nothing but remind us that we're reading an author with less than half the talent of King.

The story quickly turns from an intelligent investigation to the Doctor, Rose and Jack running from the blue blobs, and setting shit on fire.  That's when it absolutely lost me because it felt like a complete bait and switch. Yes, I get that as much as the Doctor is a super brilliant Time Lord, he spends a good deal of time running and dodging to get away from the bed guys but that usually comes with a coherent story which The Deviant Strain greatly lacked.

In terms of characterisation it was absolutely off.  Yes, I can picture Captain Jack running into combat and working to save someone he saw as vulnerable and need of his help.  My question however is where did my smiling, flirtatious Jack go?  He was absolutely generic.  Even though The Deviant Strain is set before Torchwood, there should still be some sense of who Captain Jack is.  This character is such a cardboard cut out with no personality that he really could have been anyone with the name Captain Jack tacked on for fan service.

Then there's Rose, who runs around tossing herself at anything that looks dangerous.  She's like a fish out of water.  I didn't recognise her at all.  She seemed to be there so that the Doctor could explain what is going on. Yes, I realise that this is the main function of the companion in the Who universe, however; each companion has a personality that is distinct.  Rose just ran and threw herself at stuff without trying to figure out the big picture or even giving the Doctor a sense of humanity which is something that she was really good at.

Then there's the Doctor, who fortunately was not as badly portrayed as Rose and Captain Jack. Yes, we got the big smile constantly, the curiosity and his telltale Fantastic phrase but unfortunately he read more like \Bill Nye than the Doctor.  Here's the thing, how many plans does it take for the Doctor to take out the villain?  This Doctor took four tries. FOUR TRIES.  Umm no.  The only interesting reveal in The Deviant Strain, is that The Doctor's DNA is very close to human. This naturally sent me off on a tangent wondering if the Doctor is actually half human?  That little revelation was far more interesting to me than the actual story which is saying something.

Onto the social justice part  of which there was none to speak of.  As become far too common for this series, it The Deviant Strain was heavily erased.  Don't start screaming Captain Jack to me. I know that he is a bisexual man but you wouldn't know it from this story at all.  His sexuality was not brought up explicitly and he spent most of his time when he was not fighting aliens, concerned about the welfare of Valeria.  There were no people of colour in the story either.  I do however have to point out that people who not only want to live forever but stay young eternally has a touch of ageism to it.  It was reified by the fact that Valeria's father left her to die because after she little run in with the aliens, she was no longer youthful and vibrant.  It speaks about the disposability of some people. Sure, you could argue that in the end that the townsfolk chose to take care of Valeria and that this countered the initial message but they have to be guilted into doing the right thing because both Rose and Captain Jack acted to save Valeria, proving that even in a vegitative state that she had some value.

If you are picking up this book because you miss the 9th Doctor and are hoping for a good fix - skip it. Just re-watch his season. You have been warned.  The characters all feel off and the story cannot seem to decide exactly whether it just wants to straight up rip off Stephen King, or tell a badly written Doctor Who story.  I couldn't even begin to see The Deviant Strain as an episode.  It reads like poor fanfiction that should never have been published.  Please consider yourself warned.