Seeing I.


Books  There was moment in Seeing I when I genuinely laughed then cried, in that way that we all did at the end of The Doctor Dances.  It's on page 176 when the Doctor and Sam are finally re-united and he is able to do something he's been wanted to do for over three years.  It's small, takes but three sentences or so, but manages to capture both characters and their situation more clearly than anything which has happened in the whole of this lost Sam plot-arc.  Infuriatingly I'm not going to tell you what it is, because by the time you've finished reading this, you'll be reaching for your bookshelf, a library or ebay wanting to see what I mean.  I spent last night reading the whole book in one sitting.  It's ages since I've been able to do that.  But then again, it was a Saturday ...

Going into this big read, I knew there were going to be certain tent pole books generally written by Lawrence Miles.  I generally know what happens in those, either because I've read them before or many columns of writing in Doctor Who Magazine which accompanied their publication.  Seeing I was not one of these.  I knew it was part of the first plot-arc and what that arc was about but having seen the book remaindered in The Works many years ago I didn't really pay it much mind.  How wrong could I be?  Frankly this enters my top five which includes, predictably, in no particular order, The Dying Days, Vampire Science, Alien Bodies and weirdly enough Option Lock.

The story picks up directly after Dreamstone Moon.  Sam is a homeless refugee on the planet Ha'olam picking herself up from the doldrums by helping out in a shelter before she gets a job at the slightly sinister Microsoftesque INC.  Meanwhile, the Doctor is still searching for her, and after messing up a search of that corporation computer finds himself imprisoned.  The book tells the story of the next three years of the Sam's shift from employee to someone fighting against the system and the timelord's attempts to escape from a prison that appears impossible to escape from.  It's The Constant Gardener intercut with The Shawshank Redemption and unlike the previous book, their separation does not feel forced.

Overall, the whole arc has been a bit of a mish-mash but somehow Seeing I's writers Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman manage to rationalize some of its weirder excesses and character points.  The effect here is cumulative.  The authors manage to reference nearly all of the preceding books, even explaining the Doctor's behaviour in Legacy of the Daleks to an extent, and offers an excellent parallel at one point with something that happened in the Virgin New Adventures, specifically tying the two continuities together for the first time (there's even a quote from a Paul Cornell novel, Timewyrm: Revelation,  inside).  For the first time I actually understand what was going on at the end of Longest Day and really why Sam ran off like that.  It reminds us that this whole arc has largely taken place in the same timeframe, in one little area of the galaxy (which makes Legacy even more of an abberation).

Ha'olam is very well drawn - just close enough to being Earth for the reader understand why Sam would care and alien enough to allow for invention.  It seems to be based the modern middle east, in which large hi-tech structures jut out of urban living areas which haven't been developed since the middle of the last century or earlier.  The INC corporation will be familiar to anyone who has worked or is working in a white collar job (it was a bank call centre for me) a chip in the machine, easily replaceable.  There is some excellent extrapolation of how corporate co-opting of the human body and soul might go.  You might be covered by the company's medical scheme for a heart transplant, but they'll own the new pump and if you leave their employ you're stealing property.  Same for any experience you might have gathered in the job, for which they have various methods of extraction.

I want to say this is Sam's book, but really that's really unfair.  The heroic, passionate, witty Eighth Doctor I remember from the earlier novels makes a florid return from the doldrums.  The dimensions he's lacked recently return.  For once when he says confidently that he'll break out of that prison within a few days you believe him and are shattered when it doesn't happen.  In one of the book's best set piece, chapter two, his dogged determination to break the bureaucracy of the corporation will hearten anyone who's had to do anything within a stymieded system (and certainly has more resonance than a similar scene in the recent disastrous Hichhiker's film).

Cleverly, whilst in prison, his captors, particular Dr. Arkula, are cordial, intelligent company, which makes his inability to escape even more infuriating.  Unlike Big Finish's Minuet in Hell, the reader isn't sure whether he really is broken or if its just a way of fooling those who are tracking his movements (and who they are is something I want to keep secret for when you read the book).  It's not until the moment referenced in the first paragraph above that we're sure.  This Doctor changes almost as much as his companion but still continues to be the same.  It's all so pleasingly confusing.

So half of this book is Sam's.  Whilst the Doctor's (to quote the song) 'consumed by the chill of solitary' for once Sam is allowed to space live and breath.  She develops from a teenager into a young woman in the space of two hundred pages and the process feels entirely natural.  In the dvd commentary to the recent release of The Daleks, Carole Ann Ford bemoans the fact that her character was never allowed to grow or doing anything really and that's why she left (an opinion which I've heard from many actresses who've been in the series over the years).

I think the companion's trajectory here is exactly what they were clammering for.  Except her maturity isn't gained through an encounter with some great interplanetary entity, galactic war or accidentally time slip.  It's because of dealing with the banality of her young life, being a (as she realises) sixth form dropout with few qualifications trying to make their way in someone else's world.  For once, as the Doctor paces about in the four walls of a cell his life story on hold, Sam moves from location to location helping out where she can and standing up for what she believes in.

Her progression is perfectly natural as she falls in and out of love, from relationship to relationship, from job to cause.  At one point, within two pages, a year goes by, presented by the number of month's she's been with her first proper boyfriend.  All of her friends and partners are carefully drawn and you can understand why Sam would want to be with them or not.  Anyone who's been part of a studenty dynamic will recognize the conversations and emotions, particular in the middle section when she's helping to rebuild a village in the middle of the desert in a place no one seems to care for.  We've all known a Orin or a Shoshama, a Paul or Rachel.  To throw in another film reference (I'm on a film studies course so what do you expect?), the effect is similar to that of Cédric Klapisch's L'Auberge espagnole, with Sam in place of Wendy who similarly fell in and out of relationships.  Indeed, not since some of those Short Trips has the character seemed like someone you've met in the real world.  In fact, later in the book the Doctor simply wouldn't survive without her company - even though the basis of their friendship has changed because of the time she's spent with other people.  She still loves him but in a different way.

I've written over a thousand odd words here and I still think I've shortchanged the experience of reading Seeing I.  I've missed out so many important things and again I can't see that the next book, Placebo Effect, could be as good, even though it is written by Gary Russell.  I'm looking forward to reading how this new Sam and the Doctor interact with (oh no) the Wyrrn.

[This is another book which beats with the heart of the new series.  As well as implants similar to those in The Long Game, there's constructive use of a banana, the kinds of double bluffs you might expect in The Parting of the Ways and a scene right at the end reminiscent of the 'It also travels in time' moment from Rose.]

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