Books This year my birthday money, assuming I’m lucky enough to receive some and assuming I’m not sent a review copy (!), will be purchasing the third(ish) edition of next best thing I have to The Bible which isn’t Shakespeare’s First Folio, Lance Parkin’s seminal Doctor Who chronology, Ahistory. While I await that momentous day and discovering exactly where he and his co-writer Lars Pearson have decided to put Planet of the Dead, I’ve been enjoying his 2002 pseudo-Bond adventure Trading Futures. Well, mostly enjoying.
In about 2016 (it’s not mentioned in the novel but Ahistory makes an educated guess) (which it would), two of the Earth’s main superpowers, the US and the now united Eurozone covertly battle to gain control of time technology from Baskerville, a global millionaire who also purports to be from ten thousand years in the future. Meanwhile an alien ship drops into orbit also seeking the secrets of time travel and with each page, the Doctor’s own plan, to make sure the technology is nullified before it can do much damage, becomes increasingly complex.
We’re in cross-genre territory but Parkin doesn’t just simply produce a novelisation of a Bond film. Those elements are in there, the global locations, massive stunts and even an aging Bond figure in Cosgrove, the Deputy Head of Eurozone Secret Service, whose described as being ruggedly, bearded and has a Scottish accent. Even Anji’s transformed into a faux-Bond girl spending part of the pagination in her bikini. Perhaps she’s supposed to be one of the silhouettes on the cover. The one on the left?
But there’s also a heavy dose of Clancy-like geopolitical shenanigans, with regimes collapsing and heads of state becoming directly involved in affairs. Delta Force Captain Mather from Father Time returns and this time he’s the US President and from what I can gather supposedly played by Morgan Freeman (as per Deep Impact). It’s from the Clancy genes that we get the cynicism of war, that patriotism only stretches as far as its capable of producing financial opportunities (which is thematically similar to Anachrophobia).
And for the most part it’s great fun. Parkin splits the regulars up for much of the duration with Anji in arguably the most prominent role ascertaining Baskerville's secrets whilst simultaneously not getting killed, Fitz on the alien space craft pretending to be the Doctor badly and the real Doctor in the Bond role, dashing about the world with an Asian CIA agent ala Tomorrow Never Dies, blowing up boats, being thrown out of office windows and in one especially kick ass move deflecting rifle bullets with a pistol. Yes, he has a gun. But it’s about intent.
Which is somewhat the problem. As we’ve seen recently, however flexible its format, Doctor Who doesn’t always sit well when crossed with some genres and amid all this, some of the solutions to problems are ambiguous at best with Life’s Champion and his companions not necessarily averse to letting humanity or certain aspects of it destroy itself if required. It’s not quite as direct as A Town Called Mercy, but if you’re not in the right mind for it … well … I’ll be specific in the next paragraph, which you might want to skip if you want to keep yourself entirely spoiler free.
As happens in a Bond film, there’s a lot of death played for laughs in here. Fitz’s solution to the alien threat, however murderous they might have been, is in stark contrast to what we’ve become used to, not that he didn’t give them enough chances not to, I suppose (see The Sontaran Strategem). But it’s the final moments when Cosgrove hurls himself off a cliff which are especially problematic. True he has a gun to the Doctor’s head, but the Time Lord throws the device off the cliff knowing he’ll go after it and knowing he’ll die when he does.
Such things are a symptom of cross-sensibilities and to an extent it’s always important to keep in mind that we’re experiencing fictional constructs and authors with ideas of how these fictional constructs behave within a simulacrum. But as with A Town Called Mercy, when they seem to be acting out of character, against the moral code they’ve previously been given, it jars and only really works if, ala Voyage of the Damned, whatever Doctor Who is as a thing, ultimately asserts itself, usually at much the same time as the Doctor himself.
All of which said, it still feels like a Parkin book through and through. The author always creates a character which can only be played by Ian Richardson and on this occasion it’s Baskerville (obviously!). For everything said above, this is still roughly the same Eighth Doctor from The Dying Days, somehow able to battle incredible odds with very little to hand, though the author gives due notice to his new condition, his amnesia, his single heart and not really knowing his own limits. But he’s still pretty superhuman, not the nearly decrepit figure of the previous few books.
There’s also the same interest in period detail as Father Time, though unlike that novel, he’s largely making up those details for himself. The funniest example of that is his conception of youth culture in which teenagers all conform: wear suits, work to get good grades and presumably go to bed a reasonable hour because they’ve realised that it’s the best way to unnerve their parents, Anji’s generation, who did none of those things. Given the right set of circumstances, there’s nothing to say that won’t come to pass. It’d certainly unnerve me.
Some of Parkin’s predictions are amazingly prescient. At one point Fitz utilises a “Pad” which offers Siri-like voice activated information (albeit with a more robust AI). The continuing unrest in the middle east, particularly in Libya (a few years late, but still) and of course a black US president which god willing should still be the case in 2016. There’s even a single global monetary transaction system, which given movements within the current Eurozone and the US doesn’t sound too beyond the bounds of possibility.
Just as you’d imagine, the author’s very conscious of his Whoniverse references. Learham is the same British PM as Justin Richards’s Time of the Daleks. The CIA’s Control from the first BBC past Doctors novel Devil Goblins from Neptune appears. It’s also not entirely unconnected with the 1960s tv story The Enemy of the World which is set a year later. He even manages to prefigure one of the alien races in nuWho, the Onihr having a rhino shaped head, Judoon in looks essentially if not attitude (unless they’re a different genus of the same species) (or whatever).
Contemporary reviews for Trading Futures were mixed. I remember Doctor Who Magazine being especially damning in its faint praise and the consensus seems to be that it suffered in following the near perfect Anachrophobia, which it does, especially because it (almost) shares some of the same story points. I suppose your enjoyment of the book depends upon your love of the Bond films and although I wouldn’t count myself an enthusiast (it has its shallow, repetitive moments) (yes, I know, that’s an inconsistent attitude) I do at least own the box(ed) set.
Next . . .