The Space Age.

Books  Science fiction has always had a slightly over accelerated expectation of the future.  Only recently have the kinds of issues Orwell talked about in 1984 come into being frightening the life out of all of us; the film Strange Days hedged its bets about what the millennium would look like and struck out somewhat in thinking that Skunk Anansie would still have a career let alone sing in the year 2000; 20o1 was a bust and the less said about Blade Runner which was the kiss of death to all of the brands it featured, the better.

It’s against this kind of landscape that The Space Age is established, this time with the expectation that the future would look like The Jetsons or those modernist cityscapes that graced the likes of Amazing Stories or Galaxy magazines in the 1950s and 60s and the cinema of the time, by the year 2000.  Within this, author Steve Lyons inexplicably drops the cast of the classic mods and rockers film Quadrophenia and has them and our regulars experience a plotline straight out of The Twilight Zone.  It’s exactly the kind of list approach to story lining that Russell T Davies says he never does in the new series even though he clearly does and on this occasion it really works - to a point.

Lyons has always been one of my favourite spin-off writers, with his chameleonic ability to recreate any of the shows eras in print, the likes of The Witch Hunters (which set Hartnell and friends in against the Salam witch trials) being so good that sometimes its easy to forget that there wasn’t some original lost story, so I was interesting to see how the author dealt with the kind of anti-era, the experimental Doctor without a continuous house style.  The answer is that like the best authors in the series, he’s followed his own nose, letting the scenario and the ideas dictate the mood of the writing.

The book opens then in the manner of a Rod Serling voice over speaking directly to the reader as the scenario begins, friends at the beach discovering the alien space craft that would be both their saviour and eventual downfall.  After this prologue, and as we discover that the kids have apparently been taken to the future to continue their turf war within a future city that fulfils their every limited desire.  The writing shifts into a kind of pulp style redolent of those sci-fi novels of the early 50s and 60s filled with descriptions of the world and reveling in the technology with slightly banal dialogue, then as the novel progresses, and the Doctor and pals intervene with the world, the text becomes more sophisticated, the concepts shifting towards Philip K Dick then eventually into something approaching a ‘real’ Doctor Who novel.

For once, this kind of intellectual game works because Lyons is pitch perfect in his portrayal of the regulars, convincingly keeping them in the tradition of the series.  It’s utilizes a very simply structured with the Doctor becoming involved with the rockers and Fitz with the mods each group trying to take advantage of these space men from the sky, their plight and progression through the story and the world forever being compared and contrasted, juxtaposing each others discoveries on top of one another.  Compassion meanwhile has seized up, the TARDIS section of her rapidly subsuming her original personality.

If the novel doesn’t quite convince its because it collapses under the perennial problem of the novels of providing a range of characters few of whom are clearly defined enough for us to care about their fate.  Obviously the heads of the two gangs Alec and Ricky are supposed to be largely the same, their preoccupation being to kill the other, and although that helps the reader to see them from the Doctor’s perspective and futility of taking sides it also means that they’re difficult to sympathise with them as well.  The female characters probably come off best, with Sandra (who I’m sure looks exactly like Grease’s Olivia Newton John) being caught between her brother and her boyfriend, Juliet-style, and technician Gillian, Doctor’s one off companion for much of the story who slowly begins to see his view of the conflict and eventually follows him into the dark heart of this neo-futuristic city.

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