Doctor Who: The Crooked World

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!

Reaction: Doctor Who – The God Complex

That's my fear door

“Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” errr *cough*

“The God Complex” is an odd episode, not in a bad way, but it definitely is different than anything else we’ve seen this season. First and foremost the direction was spot on for an episode that was supposed to make us feel uncomfortable and anxious. With a heavy use of surreal cinematography techniques including dutch angles, quick cuts, overlays of text and more, this almost felt a bit more like something Edgar Wright would have directed than a Doctor Who episode. Not that the story resembled anything like that. The actual plot was strange as well; it seemed to take the best elements from the “Hell scene” in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and crossed them with a bit of The Curse of Fenric, a seventh Doctor Story, chiefly with its use of fear and faith as a motif.

I was really worried that this would devolve into nothing more than a Scooby Doo corridor chase scene in the first act of the episode; but as we got further in, everything got a bit more mature than I was expecting. By “mature” I don’t mean gore and nudity, but complex themes not usually reserved for a family show.

While a lot of sci-fi has a tendency to take digs at religion and faith systems, this episode does it in a far more classy way than shows such as Stargate. Instead of coming across in a patronizing atheistic manner that some sci-fi embodies, we get an episode where the villain literally feeds on faith. Whether that faith be in a person, an idea, or a deity, we learn that most people fall back on faith when faced with our greatest fears in order to get us through. What if this faith is tampered with and everyone is brainwashed to have faith in the very thing that is about to kill them? The creature, a large minotaur-like monster, then finds this rapturous wave of faith for itself and feeds. Body after body falls until the Doctor can figure it out. Confusingly, Rory was shown to be a fatalist in some manner, and was said to have no faith. Since he only lives for himself, we are led to believe that the monster would leave him alone. Wouldn’t he have faith in Amy?

This idea is best played out when we find out that Amy hold all of her faith in the Doctor. He greatest fear is the Doctor abandoning her in some way, and she clings to him for help. Realizing that Amy regards him as some sort of God-like figure he has to make her lose faith in him or she’ll die. This was seen at one other point in Doctor Who history, an eighties episode called the Curse of Fenric. Then it was Ace that the Doctor was forced to mess with, although that instance was far more cruel than what we got tonight. The Doctor could have said something like “I could have saved your baby, but I chose not to”, instead we get the Doctor humbling himself.

All in all this was a good episode, but I will have to watch it again to fully take it in. the unorthodox direction, the weird plot and a few things to ponder make this hard to fully register. I do have some things to ponder for next week:

What exactly did the Doctor see behind his fear door? I assumed it was himself, but could it be someone truly evil?

What does the doctor worship? Amy asks this and the Doctor basically brushes it aside. Was this a random bit of dialogue, or is there importance to it? I feel this may tie in to point one, possibly showing the “big bad” of this season. It may be false hope, but I really want there to be a crazy evil time lord to be the ringleader at the end, and I wonder if this was the seed planted in our heads.

If the Minotaur is related to the Nimons and was seen as a God to some group, did that imply that he was the God of them? It wasn’t really made clear.