Imagine, if you will, a fictional reality where the characters of various authors can all hang out together.
Now picture a planet where the world of PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster
has been rewritten by Douglas Adams and is being visited by The Doctor and Amy Pond. Then smash this all unceremoniously together with Michael Moorcock's distinctively exotic multiversal cosmology.
You now have a rough idea of where the peculiar mess that is Michael Moorcock's The Coming Of The Terraphiles
is coming from.
I'm not one hundred per cent sure, but I'm reasonably certain than the idea of the Multiverse
has never been a central pillar of the Doctor Who
mythology before (certainly not to this degree in the television series, anyway
), but here The Doctor talks about its intricacies and dangers as though it's a topic of daily conversation.
For a book that is supposed to add an air of maturity to the BBC's current run of Youth Adult Doctor Who
novels (by recruiting a Big Name Author - one of the biggest, actually
), there's an awful lot of annoying silliness in Terraphiles
, from the various gang names (such as Captain Abberley and The Bubbly Boys or Frank/Freddie Force and his Antimatter Men
) to the ludicrous sports tournament that forms the backdrop for the story - a mish-mash of misremembered old Earth sports culminating in a preposterous game called 'whackit' which is an unbelievable cocktail of darts, archery and cricket.
However, the most unintentionally amusing segment is when the storyline sails dangerously close to collapsing into Mary-Sue
fanfiction territory as The Doctor and Amy finally meet up with Moorcock's pet character, Captain Cornelius, and The Doctor gushes, almost orgasmicly, in describing this fellow as the MOST infamous and feared pirate in the Multiverse with the MOST formidable ship and the MOST powerful weapons.
With no recollection of, say, The Master or Davros, he paints a picture of Cornelius being the Moriarty to his Holmes.
There's a moment later on when Amy - who seems to enjoy a little frisson of excitement every time she looks at the handsome, masked captain - tours Cornelius' ship then returns to tell The Doctor that it's nearly as big inside as The TARDIS!
The first quarter of The Coming Of The Terraphiles
is devoted to a country house mystery revolving around the theft of a hat - yes, very PG Wodehouse, not very Doctor Who
- with The Doctor, when he's in it at all, playing the role of consulting detective.
The plot then moves off into space as The Doctor and his team of Terraphiles (historic re-enactors who compete in major sporting events based on what they believe are Old Earth games
) head towards the centre of the universe for the grand finals of a tournament to win The Silver Arrow Of Artemis - also believed to be The Arrow Of Law, a key instrument in maintaining the stability of the Multiverse.The Multiverse
, apparently, is falling apart and destructive "dark tides" are racing through our universe, and, naturally, The Doctor wants to put things right... and so signs up for a sporting tournament!
The finals of the tournament take place on the "ghost worlds" at the centre of our universe, so called because they phase unpredictably through the layers of the Multiverse during their orbits. This seems as logical a place to hold the final of sports' contest as hosting the World Cup or The Ashes on the side of an active volcano.
As well as the Multiverse, Moorcock has also ported in his concepts of Law, Chaos and Balance - so predominant in his Eternal Champion cycle, which embraces the adventures of Elric, Jerry Cornelius, Dorian Hawkmoon etc - which, again, are entirely new ideas (in this framework
) for the Whoniverse, but are treated as old friends by The Doctor.
He also manages to squeeze in several homages to Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter Of Mars
stories - which he pastiched in his own excellent Mars serie
s - with frequent mentions of Barsoom and even a four-armed thark
Alien-wise, in a strange tribute to the Russell T Davies era of the show, pretty much every non-human described is some anthropomorphic variation of an Earth animal, avian or insect - with the only 'known' species mentioned being the Judoon.
These, it turns out, aren't all brutish mercenary police officers, some are also enthusiastic sportsbeings (which I can accept
) - however, the only one quoted in direct speech doesn't sound at all like the Judoon depicted on the television.
You only have to read my other reviews of Moorcock's work
to know how much I admire his writing, and get a flavour of how enthusiastic I was about the prospect of him penning a Doctor Who
novel. Therefore, you must also sense the enormous disappointment I feel with the end result. Of the dozen Moorcock books I've read, including this one (although, technically, the unabridged text was read to me via my iPod
), this is certainly the weakest.
On the cover The Coming Of The Terraphiles
says it's a Doctor Who
story, but Moorcock's rendition of The Eleventh Doctor is highly generic and his Amy Pond is such a cipher that either really could have been any pairings of characters from The Doctor's eleven lives.
(I mentioned in my "initial thoughts" that reader Clive Mantle's version of Amy Pond, in the audio book, was some awful, pantomime stereotypical Scottish accent - well, it never gets any better. The voices he adopts for the other characters, however, grew on me - although his Doctor was never recognisable as Matt Smith - and his generally calm, very British, Stephen Fry/John Cleese-like tone for the main narration was excellent
There are moments of glorious, sweeping poetry - particularly in Moorcock's descriptions of his beloved Multiverse and its inner workings - and an act of enormous heroism at the book's climax (although not by The Doctor
), but much is also padding, with the biggest irony being that the character of Cornelius could have been excised from the novel and no-one would have been any the wiser. That is until his ship sweeps in at the last moment to pull off the IMPOSSIBLE rescue of our Multiversally-stranded heroes!
"To calculate all those orbits within orbits demands mathematical skills beyond most of us," The Doctor says to his saviour - as if we hadn't already got the point that he regards Captain Cornelius as the greatest person ever
in the Multiverse.
For the most part, The Doctor and Amy are merely background observers to the various goings-on, only occasionally stepping to the foreground so the reader doesn't forget this is supposedly a Doctor Who
I wouldn't presume to call this lazy writing, because I don't believe there's a lazy bone in the prodigious Moorcock's body, but it's akin to asking JK Rowling to write a Doctor Who
book and finding out that The Doctor is using magic to fight Dementors around Diagon Alley; Harry, Hermione and Ron may not be in the book, but you know it's a JK Rowling book first and foremost.
And 'whackit' is certainly no Quidditch!