REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Crooked World (2002)

A book by Steve Lyons

From the Back Cover:

The people of the Crooked World lead an idyllic existence.

Take Streaky Bacon, for example. This jovial farmer wants nothing more from life than a huge blunderbuss, with which he can blast away at his crop-stealing nemesis. And then there’s Angel Falls, a racing driver with a string of victories to her name. Sure, her trusted guardian might occasionally put on a mask and menace her for her prize money, but that’s just life, right? And for Jasper the cat, nothing could be more pleasant than a nice, long nap in his kitchen — so long as that darn mouse doesn’t jam his tail into the plug socket again.

But somebody is about to shatter all those lives. Somebody is about to change everything — and it’s possible that no one on the Crooked World will ever be happy again.

The Doctor’s TARDIS is about to arrive. And when it does… That’s all folks!”

When I first got back into Doctor Who, I realized that the place I worked had a very small section of the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures (EDA) books tucked away deep inside the science fiction area. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with the covers to most of these as they all had some generic clip-art cover vaguely based on a theme in the book. I know they always say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, which is nice and all, but some of the EDAs just looked bland. One had a grungy looking camera in the dirt, one had a rose in another unrelated pile of dirt, and one had a generic nuclear symbol on the front. I’m not sure if the BBC just needed some cheap covers, or if there was some sort of rights issue involved with using an image of Paul McGann, but many of these did not catch my eye. One book, however, did catch my eye based solely on the ridiculous nature of its cover – a cartoon version of the Eighth Doctor placed next to a series of cartoon birds, pigs, and other weird creatures. I had to get it.

To be honest, this book feels very much like a cross-over fan fiction that somebody would toss together in their spare time. Any story that places itself in a world populated with rights free fake versions of famous cartoon characters has to be a joke right? I mean we obviously have analogues to Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry, and Penelope Pitstop among others. This goes far above your normal “Brain of Morbius is basically Frankenstein” homage to an utter pastiche of the 1960’s cartoon era. They seemed to do this a lot in these books seeing as I remember one that was basically a James Bond story within the same line.

So, I guess you’re assuming that I hated this book – well actually I really liked it, and not just in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Steve Lyons starts out with your typical zany hijinks found in these cartoons, but the mere presence of the Doctor and his companions changes everything. Lyons slowly leaks in details that show the “crooked world” is falling apart. We first see this in the opening moments of the novel. A character named Streaky Bacon (imagine a cross between Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig) is desperately trying to keep a bird called the “Whatchamacalit” from destroying his garden again…like he does every day. The Doctor steps out of the Tardis only to get a chest full of hot buckshot. He crumples over bleeding to death as the cartoon characters do nothing. You see, in their world all one has to do is wait for the ambulance to show up and the victims are immediately, and somewhat magically, cured. This doesn’t happen at all, and it really haunts the pig. He usually gets away with inconsequential violence because nobody actually gets hurt. In a VERY dark turn he tries to punish himself in some way, due to a lack of understanding by the local sheriff, and attempts to commit suicide – only to have the gun do a cartoony backfire and not hurt him.

When I read that passage, my mind basically crapped it’s pants – here I was thinking that this was going to be a funny ”let’s mock old cartoons” affair, and what I got was a disturbing ode to the darker side of the values taught in said cartoons. Pretty soon all characters are guilt ridden wrecks based on their realization that their whole existence is so messed up. Riots are breaking out everywhere, and nobody is safe.

My only problem with the book is what happens at the end. I won’t spoil the ending at all, but I will say that it’s both VERY powerful, and a bit of a cop-out as it comes a bit out of left field. This isn’t helped out at all, by a Doctor that essentially takes a card from Captain Kirk and says “screw the prime directive!” but I guess that’s par for the course for a character such as The Doctor.

I need to finish reading all those bland covered books I bought “back in the day”; but for now I’ll hold onto the fact that The Crooked World is my favorite EDA (so far) despite the fact that I basically bought it because it made me laugh conceptually. What I ended up with was a very dark, and thought-provoking read. I really need to stop this whole book cover judging business!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s