Eater of Wasps.

Books A friend recently asked me why I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I told her that I’ve never been very good at keeping them so didn’t see the point in creating undue expectations on myself – or a more monosyllabic, less well thought through version of that. But this year I’ve decided I need to do two things, complete two blogging related projects which have been hanging about for years. One is admittedly less achievable in the present climate, visiting the final eight venues in Edward Morris’s Public Art Collection In North-West England books (some of which are rendered a bit out of the way due to public transport), but the other, blasting though the bottom thirty or so of the Doctor Who spin-off novels about the Eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann seems more achievable. Or at least it did until I counted them.

Nevertheless, here we are with Trevor Baxendale’s Eater of Wasps, a novel I’ve probably put off for so long because of the title and the cover, which is pretty disgusting once you’ve realised what it is. In the event, though it isn’t a stone cold classic, it is an entertainingly traditional bit of body horror (if such things exist) with a few elements that pre-figure later Who both spin-off and on television. There’s a coincidental bit of déjà vu to the set-up. Like a couple of recent Big Finish Fourth Doctor stories, the TARDIS pitches up in a village, this time in Wiltshire, with mysterious Grange, inhabitants friendly and otherwise and a threat which isn’t initially what it seems. An artefact from the far future that imprints itself on the local wasp population turning them into a hive mind bent on reproducing itself amongst the local inhabitant.

Which means it also has a few passing similarities to the AudioGo Fourth Doctor stories written by Paul Magrs with their zombified human beings also infested by wasps – or hornets in particular as they are there. Thanks to the Eighth Doctor’s memory loss, we can happily ignore inconsistency of him not remembering a similar adventure that hadn’t been written yet. Buzzing around that (oh yes) is a team of what we can how assume are time agents also on the trail of the artefact with primitive temporary travel devices not unlike Jack or River’s wristband contraption. These three aren’t unlike the teenagers from last year’s Becoming Human, though it’s Kala, the girl, who finds herself swept up in the Doctor’s usual mantra of trying to find another way. Oh and it’s set in the 1930s.

All of which is relatively simplistic by the standards of the EDAs, but allows Baxendale to fill his pages with some well observed characters and a realistic rustic world. Where it not for the utterly grotesque villainy still difficult to achieve convincingly with CGI this could easily be transferred to the screen, though even by his standards, Eleventh is a far less troubled figure than his predecessor. The village, Marpling, is nicely evoked – all very Leadworth – especially the old church where much of the action takes place. One of the nice threads is how the Doctor remembers that period in much greater detail than he might have done with all of his faculties because he has less memories in his big head overall.

The best characters are undoubtedly the Pink brothers who live in the Grange. The Squire is the village’s worthy, well thought of by all and sundry, especially the local busy-body. He’s initially hostile to the Doctor and his friends who are presumed to be gypsies (it’s that period) but events lead him to notice the grey pigments which society is actually coated with. Anji takes a shine to his brother Hilary, a sot who seems deliberately to have been written as how the original Fitz may have turned out before Interference business. He’s charming and gregarious but tinged with the sadness of a life wasted. They’re like a British Crane brothers if Frasier was at even greater variance in behaviour from Niles.

The story tumbles along at a fair lick. There are a couple of occasions when Baxendale is almost spelling out that if the Doctor was at his full strength, business would be attended to far quicker. But all of the TARDIS team seem a bit underpowered, only really coming into focus as the Doctor does, as though he needs to be activated for them to step up to the challenge. Because the Doctor still isn’t himself. He’s often quiet and as with the previous few novels there’s the sense that he’s performing as a Time Lord called the Doctor rather than knowing what that really means, completely aware of the known unknowns he’s dealing with. There’s some entertaining business with humbugs in which it’s inferred that he means jelly babies but picked the wrong nostalgic children’s sweet.

It's best read than written about.  The time agent storyline seems tied up but will surely lead to other things, even in this series of books.  Anji's still bedding in as a character -- we're still at the stage were the writers are constantly referring to her old job and boyfriend as bedrocks though she's still generally a fairly generic companion figure in comparison to Sam even with the retrospective help of Nick Wallace's Fear Itself as a fill in.  Fitz is becoming a bit tired in that way companiosn often do if they've been hanging around for too long.  His story really ended with Interference.  But I'm still excited to see what happens next, not least because I've been looking at the titles of these books on my shelf for so long, I can't wait to find out what's inside.

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