Time Zero.

Books Yes, yes, yes, yes!  What’s turning out to be a really entertaining, really interesting run of novels continues with Justin Richards’s Time Zero which ends one of the best cliffhangers the franchise has seen.  Admittedly, for reasons we’ll discuss it’s been superseded a bit by the television series, but in terms of the Eighth Doctor Adventures run and what it’s trying to do, it certainly makes me want to pick up the next book and find out what happens next to such an extent that writing this review is a bit of a chore to be honest.  But all of those years ago I promised to write something about each of these novels and so here we are, or rather I am, filling paragraphs.

Everything about this novel just works, even the synopsis:  “With Fitz gone to his certain death and Anji back at work in the City, the Doctor is once more alone.  But he has a lot to keep him occupied.”  Wait, what?  Did I miss a few?  Luckily I tend to read these things without looking at the back first, so there wasn’t a pointless glance at the TARDIS Index File to make sure, but isn’t that enticing?  Even the cover’s fun, with an ice-TARDIS shivering in a cavern, the designers Black Sheep’s style having developed far since some of the earlier dodgy examples (Longest Day).

All of this actually happens at the top of the novel as recent events take their toll and Fitz decides he needs to adventure alone for a while, on an exhibition into Siberia with George Williamson whom they met in Camera Obscura and Anji finally being dropped home, the Doctor having gotten the hang of flying the TARDIS properly (his accuracy becoming pretty important as this story progresses).  But as the synopsis indicates they’re all still inextricably drawn to Siberia chasing aspects of the same problem, another time machine with the capacity to destroy the universe.

Which should sound derivative, but as is always the case in Doctor Who, it’s all a matter of approach.  The authors utilises some slightly tricksy structuring with a string of short, snappy chapters jumping backwards and forwards in time rather like the TARDIS, with plenty of incidents and motivations, including from the regulars, never quite being explained only coalescing as the novel reaches its conclusion.  The opening scene, a hilarious Blue Peter pastiche during which another 70s televisual controversy occurs isn’t explained until at least two-hundred and fifty pages later.

Richards, at least initially, seems to be purposefully mashing genres together.  Fitz’s portion is essentially in a classic adventure films, Scott of the Antarctic crossed with The Land That Time Forgot, good men and true battling against the elements towards some fantastical outcome.  Anji’s back in a Richard Curtis film, back at work in 2001, dealing with the grief that surrounds Dave even though she’s somewhat resolved her own through travels in the TARDIS.  The Doctor’s in a modern detective drama, attempting to discover what happened to Fitz without interfering with the timeline.

Meanwhile in Sibera, a 90s James Cameron film is playing out as a research team investigating black holes is invaded by mercenaries looking for the above time machine and slowly all of these other genres find themselves folded into that and everything starts to feel more and more like Doctor Who as pages go on (though Doctor Who’s big enough to contain all of those elements anyway but we’re more clearly in a base under siege scenario albeit with human aggressors and a more complex scenario to uncover than a simple alien invasion).

Just as Camera Obscura pulled in the various interests of Mark Gatiss, so Time Zero is almost a microcosm of Steven Moffat’s work on the new series, especially in the Eleventh Doctor era.  There are time paradoxes, of course, but the ultimate problem leads the Doctor to expounding on elements of temporal mechanics and quantum theory, on the fundamental nature of the Whoniverse and whether it exists as a single timeline ala Lance Parkin’s AHistory or whether each of his decisions leads to a new junction and the creation of a whole new universe.

It’s worth noting that the ultimate assumption doesn’t contradict the new series.  He’s decided that there’s a single “master” universe, the Parkin version, but that the web of time does indeed produce offshoots when it can’t resolve changes in the timeline wrought by time travellers like him, in other words, the one with the airships or the one with the eyepatches.  That’s a tangent, but the point is that this is a return to the kind of complex storytelling which made up the earlier arcs in the EDAs and now finds itself plastered across Saturday night tv.

But the ultimate aim of the antagonist is to bond all of these realities, though he believes them to be infinite, into a single timeline with the potential side effect that all that ever was and ever could be happen simultaneously ala The Wedding of River Song.  As I’ve said before although these aren’t new ideas in science fiction terms, it’s impossible not imagine Moffat having read these novels himself and stored these ideas away in his RAM-like brain and that he’s now feeding off them.  At this point, River Song is essentially Iris Wildthyme fused with Bernice Summerfield.

There are also character, story and structural elements that feel familiar.  When Moffat’s first episode of Sherlock went out, I joked on here about how great it was to finally have the Eighth Doctor on television little realising how much of his portion of Time Zero contains scenes that are just like that series, especially a particularly clever moment when the Doctor bluffs his way into a crime scene.  Perhaps what we’re seeing is Richards’s own interest in Arthur Conan Doyle but there’s clearly a some genetic interconnections between the two franchises.

PROPER SPOILERS BEGIN HERE.  Plus there’s the subtle introduction of a companion before her time.  Rather like the pre-awareness of Jenna Louise-Colman’s casting before Asylum of the Daleks, I’m not so unaware of the basic shape of these novels that I don’t know that there is a companion called Trix and she’ll be along soon.  But I didn’t know she’d be appearing in Time Zero and that she’d be revealed to have been in half of the story before that revelation, and that the Doctor would apparently know who she is.

How did this work during publication, I wonder?  Did readers then know that a new companion would soon be introduced and was this a bit of a surprise teaser ala Oswin?  She’s very much at the back of things, but personality wise, she’s not that far away from the Moffat style sparky female which some critics have suggested Oswin is also an iteration.  But she clearly has a something about her, bit of the Lady Christina de Souza, I expect.  Mysterious, perplexing and with the potential for a love hate relationship with the Doctor.  Would anyone like to make a guess on casting?  Winslet?  Paltrow?

The connecting tissues between the, I nearly wrote episodes, novels is knitting closer together too, with Sabbath’s motivation for seeking the time machine in the last novel finally being revealed here.  As ever, thanks to the text format, I didn’t guess who he was masquerading as this time.  Unlike the Master in a dozen stories, I’m not sure that we’re supposed to and unlike the Master in a dozen stories, it’s not a trick which should be played too often otherwise we’re likely to assume that any of the characters are him in disguise which has the potential to undermine our sympathies.

There are other oddities.  It’s revealed here that the note the Doctor carried about in the Earth arc wasn’t written by Fitz, something the Time Lord realised only recently.  Since it’s the author who initiated that idea writing, it isn’t necessarily a retcon, but it does slightly undermine one of the more poignant elements of that series of stories, the moments when the amnesiac Eighth took out the little slip of paper which provided him some comfort that his questions would be answered.  I hope that wasn’t Sabbath too.

We're also finally given an explanation for the flame elemental from way back in The Burning.  Unlike television, the novels due to their sheer volume won't necessarily have born repeat experience.  I wonder how many readers would have cottoned on to that element of the story; perhaps a proportion of their small audience will have discussed such elements online and that might have fixed such things in their mind, but read that novel back in 2008 (admittedly longer than during publication) and had entirely forgotten about that aspect of it.

What makes the climax so special is that it’s so unexpected.  The coda looks like its going to be some fun about the Doctor selling Fitz’s journal to the bookshop so that his younger self can pick it up (shenanigans ala The Big Bang) but it’s the Doctor’s detective work and which slowly reveals that nothing is as it seems and I’d expect most readers are in Anji’s position of having a slightly shaky history but Fitz, being closer in time and the Doctor who practically lived through it who’re able to fill in the blanks.

But more than that, rather than simply the TARDIS landing in the wrong time and have them discover it there, we have a conversation in which the three of them actively know what they’re up against, what needs to be done and choose the adventure, almost licking their lips with anticipation at what’s to come.  Even Anji, who like Tegan way back when has been moaning about the Doctor’s inability to get back to her own time has decided the TARDIS is her home.  Antagonistic companions are never as much fun as those who choose to follow the Doctor’s mission.

It's also a big huge cosmic problem and these novels have always seemed to be at their best when there's a big huge cosmic problem to solve.  The multiverse is collapsing, and its up to the Doctor to save it by simply being in the right universe and selling a book to the right shop at the right time.  How very Doctor Who.  Some of the contemporary reviews suggested this was the work of someone who was essentially doing everything that should be in a Who novel rather than producing something inspirational.  That's unfair.  From here, Time Zero looks to be one of the best of the series.  Just thirteen left now.  That's a television season...

But it was worth it.

Politics Finally, I feel as though I'm half awake again. Sitting up until some ungodly time followed by precious few hours of sleep always has a knock on effect and as I age that knock on effect seems to last longer and longer. I'm only thirty-eight but I spent yesterday with all the cadence and gait of a zombie. Usually, despite being male, I can multi-task pretty well, listen to music and write and sing but yesterday, everything occurred pretty much one thing at a time.

But it was worth it. Obama, as expected, at least by those of us who followed the numbers, has his second term in office and hopefully he'll be bolder in his choices without his re-election campaign to worry about. The Republicans in the house aren't any more likely to give him an easier time, what with their own re-election chances constantly in the spotlight, their focus shifting from the national to local stage, but the US president may find himself more capable of starting with more expressive ideas that are trickier to dibble away at.

It's just unfortunate the televisual versions were so unremittingly boring and/or awful. I stuck with the BBC for much of the night and although Bio-Dimbleby attempted to inject some excitement aided by Katty Kay and her hipster glasses (swoon), this was simply a burst of excitement as predictions were released followed by another hour of speculation and chatting and filling and excessive amount of explaining the differences between the electoral college and popular vote despite the BBC having spent months essentially ignoring it.

Flicking across the channels, I assiduously avoided Sky News for obvious reasons, glanced at ITV whose coverage the entire night seemed to consist of throwing together an electoral college calculation based on speculation even vaguer than at the BBC and Al-Jazeera who seemed to have more correspondents on the ground than the other networks but on the occasions I watched singularly failed to ask the man or woman in the street exactly why they had their political convictions rather than simply their ignorant opinions.

Perhaps I should have listened to the radio. Thank goodness for Twitter, which let me know what was happening on what sounded like the far more entertaining US networks. It was here that I heard about the Karl Rove meltdown on Fox News, vicariously hoovering up the details like the football fan standing on the hill overlooking the stadium who doesn't have the binoculars and hanging on the every word of their friend.  Imagine Emily Maitlis doing Megyn Kelly's walk into the anonymous office at the back heckling some researchers.

Here's what would have improved the BBC's coverage: less live presentation from behind a desk, more about the story of the campaign, about the candidates, about the history of US elections in general. Knowing which states were going to be reporting their statistics, packages could have been produced for the intervening hour highlighting what was important about that state electorally, perhaps even some archive clips ala Saturday Kitchen, like the moment in Stephen Fry's America when he met Mitt Romney.

Tricky in a live context perhaps, especially if there's a breaking news story, but there were precious few of them across the night and given how long it took to agree that Obama had won the presidency in comparison to the other networks and twitter and the people in the two HQs, speediness wasn't always on the BBC's agenda anyway. Instead of attempting to pretend to be like the other networks despite clearly not having the same budget, this would have been a chance to do something different, something Reithian, despite the potentially small audience. Oh, well.

It's Gonna Be a Long Night.

Politics On this occasion, Julie Miller of the New York School of Performing Arts is correct as we await news of who is going to be running the free world for the next four years. It's always seemed slightly strange that we have to endure midnight counting for the UK's elections and we'll still be sitting up until four o'clock in the morning watching the arithmetic of the US's electoral college.

Personally, I'm standing with Nate Silver.  Obama will win this election.  He has to.  The alternative leaves the world shrouded in even greater darkness than we experienced during the Bush years because Romney's a cleverer unit and will be able to learn from his predecessor's mistakes.

But I am nervous.  Nate gives Obama's chance of winning at over 90%, yet watching the ignorance of voters, especially Romney voters about what's been happening in their own government over the past four years, not understanding why their president has been unable to enact many of the things he's promised gives me pause.

Camera Obscura.

Books  Find above one of my favourite web finds, not that I can remember where I found it, and to this day I’m not sure if it’s a fake or not.  Oh, I’m sure you could analyse the lighting on the book, seek artefacts, be a bit Snopes, but isn’t it more pleasurable to assume that during the shooting of the Come Into My World video, Kylie would retreat to her trailer between naps spend time with Camera Obscura, Lloyd Rose’s ode to Victoriana (perhaps lent by her stylist Will Baker who is a fan) and it was her appreciation of the spin-off range which led to her agreeing to appear in Voyage of the Damned a few years later as well as the Dance of the Cybermen bit in her Showgirl tour.

The book opens with the inscription “To Paul Cornell” but it might as well have been “To Mark Gatiss” since as the title might indicate, Rose’s book is replete with just the sort of influences which have infused Gatiss’s work before and after its 2002 publication date from The League of Gentlemen, through Big Finish’s Phantasmagoria, The Unquiet Dead and a dozen radio and television documentaries, not to mention Sherlock.  It’s all here, the séances, orientalism, drug-induced hallucinations, hallucinations without stimulants, lunatic asylums, Holmes references, carnivals, steampunk machinery, magicians, illusionists and smoking.

But I wouldn’t insult Rose by suggesting her appealing novel has anything to do with Gatiss’s approach to the material.  For all of this period detail, the novel is really about elucidating the relationship between the Doctor and Sabbath, defining their belief systems and modus operandi in what’s sure to be a titanic struggle across upcoming novels.  As in some previous novels, both are drawn to Victorian Britain by time disturbances which have the capacity to implode the cosmos, but this time, for various reasons, they’re forced to work together and each becomes increasingly appalled by their rival’s working methods.

So the actual A-story, such as it is, the effects of a time machine made of mirrors on the local population, the monsters and monstrosity it creates, mostly provide a backbone to a three hundred page discussion between the Doctor and Sabbath on the nature of time, who its champion should be and how best to approach that.  As the baddy, Sabbath’s is of course murder and that the overall web of time should be protected at any cost, that there are acceptable losses in the face of the death of billions.  The Doctor on the other hand thinks a single life is as important as any other.

The brilliant twist, and hey spoiler, is that after he pulled the Doctor’s dying heart from the Time Lord’s chest, Sabbath installed it in his own body as protection against the rigours of time travel, which has left them both genetically connected, the wounds effecting one, effecting the other.  So when the Doctor is at various points savagely attacked, he has a bit of the Captain Jack about him (stop it), his body reconstituted and made whole.  He spends most of the book in a zombie like state on the edge of death, but continues to keep ticking along, safe in the knowledge that his current arch-enemy won’t simply try and kill him.

The writing is vibrant, bright.  But Rose also includes some of the longest dialogue scenes these novels have ever seen, whole glorious passages between the Doctor, Anji and Fitz or the Doctor and Sabbath discussing things, each other, the plot, stuff without the usual tendency of these novels to paraphrase what’s been said.  True, without them his companions wouldn’t have much to do, they’re mainly a sounding board or sit around being concerned about their friend's well being physically and mentally, but for once, we’ve a genuine sense of what it must be like for them together between adventures.

The story does meander.  There are many shifts in location and perhaps intentionally we’re not always entirely clear about the passage of time.  There is one exciting moment when the Doctor says he’s visiting Liverpool, but the most we “see” is the interior of an anonymous theatre, a hospital and Lime Street station and none are much described, though it is pretty thrilling to imagine the Doctor, Fitz and Anji dashing about the 1893 version of my city (even if Paul McGann himself was born in Surrey which was a huge surprise when I found out) (more recently than I care to admit) (well ok, while I was writing this review) (sorry).

I finished reading the book last night after the council’s firework display and despite the distracting bangs from amateur rockets, I was entirely riveted.  Contemporary reviews were overwhelmingly positive (TV Zone gave it 8/10 apparently) and I can see why, it’s an amazing book, but it’s also a book which is best read than written about which is presumably why I’m struggling to find anything to write about.  Even the supporting characters are vividly drawn, from the members of the carnival to the aristocrats in charge of the machine especially at the climax when those plans are demonstrated to have gone horribly wrong.

The one controversial element is a moment when the Doctor purposefully enters “the land of the dead” or some such in search of information from a character who’s been murdered.  As with The City of the Dead, this is Rose taking another detour away from Who’s usually rational universe into the metaphysical and it’s not entirely explained exactly where the Doctor is, the afterlife we’re meant to presume, but I was more intrigued than appalled.  Perhaps Torchwood’s experimentation with this material via the gauntlet and The Satan Pit’s discussions have just made it seem less alien to the franchise than it might have been at time of this novel’s writing.

Now that Sabbath’s a more vital presence in the books, it’s worth discussing what he’s supposed to be like.  Guessing myself and having received some confirmation on Twitter, the idea was, at least publicly, that he’s played by Orson Welles in the The Third Man or Touch of Evil era.  It’s surprising how, once I’d realised this, thanks to a few hints in Rose’s book, the character leapt from the page, the speech patterns all there, the bulk, the facial expressions.  Part of me wants to go back and reread his previous appearances with that in mind but I’ve another dozen or so to go now and I’m trying to get them finished before Christmas.

It’s worth also noting that for the first time in reading these novels I had a physical reaction of the kind which is usually generated by the television series, just before the end.  I won’t give away the reason, but people who have read the book and will know what I’m talking about, and it’s a testament to how dimensional the novel’s version of the Eighth Doctor is as character, a creation, that my mouth opened and I let out a whimper of satisfaction and pleasure.  I used to go on and on about how the Big Finish Eighth Doctor series was crucial listening for all fans.  Perhaps just as many of these novels are also essential.

Presidential Health.

Politics  If you're still trying to get your head around the rumours that President Bartlett has multiple sclerosis, remember that previous presidents have had their fair share of medical complaints.  Pity William Henry Harrison, whose inauguration led to his premature death:
"Desiring to deny his advancing years and to look vigorous and powerful, Harrison refused to wear a winter coat, let alone a hat, during his speech. He followed this exercise in oratory by walking in a long and weather-hampered inaugural parade. Alas, the president contracted a bad cold that advanced into a severe case of pneumonia. Harrison died only 32 days after being sworn in -- the shortest term of presidential office in the history of the United States."
We're still awaiting the details of the President's condition but hopefully he'll remain healthy enough to continue his good work in turning around our country.  Meanwhile, here's a photo of Nixon jumping.

Maurice Sendak interview.

Books Maurice Sendak has a lovely interview in The Believer from Emma Brockes, usually of The Guardian's parish. Here he is on the election, sorry, the US election:
"I can’t read the papers anymore. I just feel sorry for Obama. I want him so much to win. I would do anything to help him win. He’s a decent, wonderful man. And these Republican schnooks are so horrible. They’d be comical if they weren’t not funny. So. What’s to say, what’s to say? It’s very discouraging. Which is probably why I’m going back in time. I’m a lucky man, I can afford to do that. I can afford to live here in silence, in these trees and these flowers, and not get involved with the world."
He's exactly how you'd imagine the author of Where The Wild Things Are to be.  More sweary perhaps.

Football is broken.

Sport  As I think we can all agree, mostly because it's a fact, I know nothing about football.  But I do seem to spend some time in the back of taxis where radios tend to be tuned to either commentaries of live games or discussions about the sport which means that I also seem to spend a lot of time talking about this sport I know nothing about.

This evening, during Liverpool one-all draw with ... Newcastle United, the taxi driver was becoming increasingly huffy as his team failed to achieve, what sounded like, any great standard of football.  At one point he growled and turned the sound down, a sure sign, as I've observed that things weren't going his way.

He began criticising some player or other and how much players cost and that Liverpool just aren't any good this season and asked me why Liverpool just weren't very good this season.  I said I didn't know, which is true, but largely because I didn't even know, until I just looked it up, just how badly Liverpool have been playing this year.

Here's what I did say, and I'd be interested to know what people who do know something about football think.  I should add that since the following is an outsiders view based on taxi listening, sitting through sports headline and whatever else is in the air in Liverpool where you can't get away from it, that any omissions are due to my ignorance.

Football is broken.

Liverpool especially for the purposes of this argument.

As I said to the taxi driver, the problem with most teams is that they have star players, iconic players, who've been with the club for so long they're like furniture.  So you have a figure like Steven Gerard who's become a Liverpool icon and who the club and fans can't imagine their team doing without.

The problem then is that the club and its manager basically spend their time plugging the gaps in the team behind these strikers hoping against hope that they'll be able to pass the ball to them.  But there's a hierarchy, different levels of competence and also presumably a certain element of superiority.  But rarely do they work as a team.

This doesn't seem like a good way to build a team.  Plus there's the money factor, the salaries  of all these players, the money paid in transfer windows, sponsorship, endorsements, advertising, broadcast rights, people outside the clubs with vested interests in what goes on within club, controlling to some degree, the bullshit which has nothing to do with the game.

Now, here's what I don't understand.

Such things can't have escaped anyone else's notice.  People know this, especially football managers, club owners and fans who do know something about football.  But it's become so engrained as to how these things are, the status quo, how things must be, that such finance and politics have become as much a part of the drama of the game as the game itself.

That's not sport.  It's soap opera.  And people are turning up every Saturday, paying huge ticket prices to watch the tip of a huge iceberg.  To an extent I imagine, if you are a fan and follow the game, the politics, the finance, the gossip, the match itself could at times seem as exciting as the non-interactive highlights packages on the Football Manager computer game.

Why?  Why put up with this?  Partly I expect because it's fun.  It gives people something to talk about, fills the papers, fills sports slots on television, that stuff.  I'm biased.  I think that the national game takes up too much of the national time and money which could be spent doing more interesting things.  But I also know it gives purpose to many people.

Even though it's broken.

Here's my solution.

Dump the team.  Sell all of your players.  Then hire a whole new team of players who're just finishing in youth squads, who're essentially all graduating to a senior team at the same time, no experience but bags of talent and then work them and keep them, with an equally talented but less experienced in seniors manager until they start winning matches.

This won't be easy.  There are contracts and whatnot, the business of the game.  There will have to be a lot of trust from backers and vested interests about this "long game" that for the first few seasons there won't be many wins if any.  The team may even be relegated.  Not good if you're trying to attract some decent sponsors.

Plus I don't know how this works in terms of the transfer window which seems to happen while the various competitions are going on.  I am confused on that point.  The world of football seems to work like a self perpetuating organic machine with diseases that feed off themselves.

Yet, I can't imagine that a youthful team, all beginning at the same time with similar experiences, working together to get better, all very Hollywood sport film, probably Moneyball, with a strong team ethic could play much worse than the really expensive players for whom the game has become just a job.

All it takes is for one of the clubs, possibly Liverpool, to give it a try, ask for the trust of the fans and everyone else that what you're doing is building not just a better team that everyone can get behind but also a better sport, one in which the players are passionate about the game more than anything else.

The taxi driver told me something else which partially inspired this.  He told me he is the manager of an under-nine's team.  He told me that team has only been playing together for four months but are already at the top of their given league and winning matches with five goals.

He described the tactics but also how they'd bonded, how seriously they are taking the endeavour how much training they're doing both with that and other squads, doing athletics.  He seemed genuinely proud of his team and their accomplishments, even more so than his beloved Liverpool.

Wouldn't it be great if he could be as proud of Liverpool too?