The Fall of Yquatine.

Books  Much as I liked The Fall of Yquatine, which is as good a piece of space opera as this series of books has produced and has some wonderful material related to Compassion who after the Doctor waywardly decides to fit a randomiser circuit to her innards spends decades in the time vortex trying to get back to his and Fitz’s position and even has a calendar printed in the front listing the various seasons -- the Yquatine year has 417 days and ten months of roughly 42 days each apparently, rather than simply writing the usual like that/don’t like that kind of review, I want instead to concentrate on the treatment of a single character because in the end Nick Walters’s inability to make the most of her stops the novel from being a classic.  As you‘d expect, there will be minimal spoilers.

The character in question is Arielle, described on the back of the book as ‘the president’s runaway girlfriend’ although she’s far more than that.  The first chapter is spent in her company as we discover that she’s a exobiology student visiting the ill-fated world of Yquatine, central world of the Minerva System to study the many ‘alien’ species that have settled there from within the area and beyond.  She’s described as being ‘beautiful - pale, smooth skin, gleaming golden-brown hair, big brown eyes, and elegant nose and perfect lips’ (whatever they look like).

Insert whichever actress you like in that role -- I’m thinking Rachel Weisz or Jennifer Garner -- mostly because as well as all that, she’s a bit funny, at least at first.  When she’s noticed by some of the locals, she gives them the finger and on entering her first local drinking establishment ends up facing down the reptilian Klingoneque Anthauk with enough bravery that she scores an invite to a reception at the palace that night, a perfect opportunity to do what she does.  By this time, we love her, and love her even more when she meets the aforementioned President Vargeld and isn’t phased by him.  Then after we’re told they fall in love.

She then drops from the story for over eighty pages, whilst the Doctor makes his mistake, Fitz is dumped into the past, Compassion goes a bit mad, the planet is decimated by some superweapon and a two time zone narrative is set up that Steven Moffat would be proud of.  When Arielle does pop up again it’s whilst Fitz is working that bar she visited but crucially we see her from his point of view.  Essentially, her story becomes wrapped in his.  Which doesn’t stop her from becoming more complex.  As they flee the planet, she explains that her beauty is completely manufactured, created by rich parents who didn’t want a gawky looking daughter.

What an interesting character, someone whose has a different body image forced upon her, who has travelled to the one world in her vicinity where her ethereal beauty will be largely be ignored and she can be herself again.  Only to be seduced by its president who it turns out only loves her image not the person she is inside after all, a person who she’s only recently come to terms with after, as she admits, years of fulfilling that image by being a bit of bitch.  It’s like a psychologically complex version of Mean Girls with Freudian influences and extra violence.

Here is what I don’t understand.  Having gone to the trouble of creating this really interesting character, why, half the way through the book she stops being a complete character altogether, the spark knocked out of her.  She’s certainly a presence -- Vargeld is fanatical about her and Fitz ends up spending jail time when the president discovers the time traveller helped his non-fianc√© to leave the planet, and he leaves the planet looking for her at just the moment of genocide.  And in the end, she‘s revealed to be the inadvertent reason for that genocide, leading to much soul searching from the Doctor and Fitz, and to spoil that aspect of the book completely, dies in Fitz’s arms.

If I had been Nick Walters I would have seen how useful Arielle is, both as something for Fitz to live for during his prison days and in completing a circle within the finale, helping the gang to talk the pres into doing the right thing.  As it stands, as the Anthauk threaten to blow up the president’s space station unless he signs some treaty giving them power over the system (temporarily deferring war), Compassion impersonates the student to trap the president so that the new TARDIS can them impersonate him and sign the treaty and bring and uneasy peace.  This conclusion is a bit of a cheat; although it demonstrates Compassion’s new powers, it’s played behind the scenes and feels like a dreaded deus ex machina and all too easy.

It is the Doctor Who way of course, especially in the new series, the good ones always die and we have to love them for their death to have resonance.  We have to understand why Fitz would fall in love yet again  (which I still think is as a result of how he was remembered during his resurrection) and what the president, a far more central figure overall is so obsessed by and the only way to do that is to make the target of his affection irresistible.  But it is one of the most tiring aspects of Doctor Who -- why does it have the propensity for producing so many interesting characters and then not knowing what to do with them?

Next:  Coldheart, which is presumably a celebrity historical about Hank Williams.

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