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Talking about books: Torchwood and Doctor Who tie-ins - The Lyorn's Den

Thu Apr. 16th, 2009

01:21 am - Talking about books: Torchwood and Doctor Who tie-ins

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Over Easter, I took a break from reading fanfic at the computer and instead read fanfic tie-in novels and miscellaneous fanstuff in dead-tree format.

Gary Russell: The Torchwood Archives (2008)

This is what role players call a "sourcebook". Designed as the scrap book of some reporter investigating Torchwood, it looks really pretty. Contents are the Torchwood Charter, some background on major and minor characters, an episode guide based on "Captain's Blog" that was (still is?) on BBC America's site, and a lot of background snippets. And a very realistic coffee stain. If I wrote Torchwood fanfic, I'd probably be glad to have this book as a handy reference. As I don't, it makes a fun read on those days when my attention span is lower than that of your average overripe grapefruit.

Peter Anghelides: Pack Animals (Torchwood tie-in, 2008)

That was fun. The style is witty and quick, lots of camera eye or fast-switching third person perspective, there are nerd references, monsters galore, shoot-outs, great Tosh-Owen interaction, car chases, more monsters, and Jack riding a flying unicorn.

Some geek is selling a trading card game made up of unpleasant aliens under new names. Unfortunately, the geek is unstable and the monsters have a way of appearing in the vicinity of the trading cards. The team is divided when they encounter the monsters, we start out with four main points of view and a bunch of minor ones, and the whole thing is over before the sun sets -- this story is fast-paced to the point of breathlessness. Some very good moments with Owen trying to do this job despite his handicap (this is set post-"Dead Man Walking"), a fierce and daring Gwen, and Jack in a wheelchair (this is before the unicorn). Ianto breaking into a probably alien facility naked was a little too much fanservice for my taste.

Only when its over it feels a tiny bit over the top. But it was fun.

David Llewellyn: Trace Memory (Torchwood tie-in, 2008)

I read "Trace Memory" right after "Pack Animals", and the first impression is that the style is far more conventional and less entertaining. The final impression is that the story is a lot better.

"Trace Memory" is set in the second season, but before "Reset", and goes all over the time line, from 1953, when a crate destined for Torchwood explodes and kills all but one of a group of local dockers, back into 1941 and forward to present day. The phlebotinum, which has the one survivor, a young man named Michael, bampfing all over the time line is low-key and provides a good enough reason for Michael to make an appearance in the past of every one of the team. The result is a strange, overlaid, light-handed all-times-are-now feel that I liked a lot. We get some good images of everyone's past, some nice details (like Ianto's James Bond marathon), and a highly satisfying showdown in 1967, when Michael, at the end of his rope, patience, and ability to panic, finds Jack again (for a given value of "again"), and they need to face no only the alien menace but some very 1960s antagonists.

The tone of the story is a little melancholic, but not bleak, the pieces fit very well together, and after finishing I re-read it on the spot because when you know where everything goes, the patterns of the story come to the forefront.

My favourite Torchwood book so far.

Dan Abnett: The Story of Martha (Doctor Who tie-in, 2008)

I really wanted to like this. Martha is the NewWho companion I find easiest to relate to, and I enjoy (post)-apocalyptic scenarios if they are not without hope. And parts of the book I liked, but all in all, I was disappointed.

The book starts and ends with the scene from "Last of the Time Lords": Martha returns to Britain. The scene is fleshed out by showing Martha's thoughts and plans, and giving names and personality to the smugglers who help her cross the Channel. Then the story starts at the beginning, with Martha just having teleported out of the Valiant.

The first chapters show well the practical difficulties Martha has to overcome: She does not know what to do and how to do it, and is intimidated by the scope of her task. But with a task-force of the Master's goons after her, she learns quickly, though not easily, how to survive and how to move forward. I liked those parts, which show her hunted and out of her depth, but never giving up, on a desolate planet, making connections, telling stories, and running. A lot.

Embedded in the main story are the stories that Martha tells, and here's where the book loses me. While the stories are competently written, they are basically stand-alones and do not work in the context. They cannot be told to an audience, they are too long, too complex, need an introduction, and are not inspiring or passionate. The way they are pasted on gives an impression of authorial (or editorial) laziness, as if some unused scripts from series 3 were shoved in as filler, with no thought what the stories are supposed to do in context. MeiLin's fanfic Valiant has a better grip on how oral traditions can get kick-started. It's not something that is hard to do well.

And with half the book being taken up by those misplaced short stories, half of Martha's story is missing. The book ends when she escapes from Japan before the Master burns it. The reason he burns it is not what most fanfics assume -- it fits the look-and-feel of canon better (there are aliens involved), but it does not make use of the amount of drama or tragedy that would have suited the scenario.

So, all in all: Good enough for a long train ride, but not better than that. Which is frustrating, because with the premise, one would have expected it to be better with very little effort. But that effort is, except in a few scenes, lacking.

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