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27 May 2016 @ 07:43 pm
Doctor Who: The Eyeless by Lance Parkin  
One the whole I would rate The Eyeless as an above average NuWho novel, but it makes quite a strange read, particularly since I recall the author discussing it on Doctor Who book mailing lists as he was writing. If I remember correctly, Parkin deliberately set out to show that the NuWho tie-in novels could tackle the same kind of material that the Virgin New Adventures and BBC Eighth Doctor novels had tackled. The result is a wierd hybrid - something that takes the themes of NuWho rather more seriously than most of the tie-in novels but, at the same time, includes material that genuinely does feel out of place in a novel at least partially aimed at children.

The world of Arcopolis has been devastated by a super weapon that erased all animal life apart from a single subway train full of passengers that happened to be directly beneath the weapon when it fired. Fifteen years later the Doctor arrives, determined to deactivate the weapon and prevent it ever being used again. He is expecting to find an empty world and so is surprised to find instead the survivor community and its mission to repopulate the empty world.

Although the Doctor's existence as lone survivor of Gallifrey and his role in its destruction was dealt with extensively in the series, it was used less in the tie-in novels that I have read. So reading this, which is explicitly working with those themes feels like a story that is taking its parent series more seriously than many of the tie-ins. On the other hand I'm more than over Doctor Who, Last of the Time Lords, Responsible for their Destruction, and so reading this in 2016 makes it feel slightly stale and out-of-date in a way I suspect it wouldn't have in 2008. The Virgin New Adventures famously had the tagline "too broad and deep for the small screen" and while it was open to interpretation what, exactly, they meant by that, this is the first NuWho novel that has struck me has being similar in ambition even though, in chosing to explore the issues of the Doctor and the Time War it is in many ways cleaving more closely to the televised series than some of the other novels. It's working with source material, of course, that is much more determinedly thematic than the classic series was and so it is difficult to compare. On the whole, personal weariness with the whole last-of-the-time-lords thing aside, I think this works well.

What works less well is the issue of repopulation and the strongly implied forced pregnancies that enable it. I recall Lance Parkin discussing this a lot at the time of writing, both to assert that the New Management were not in anyway attempting to limit or dumb-down the material that the books could deal with but, at the same time, to say that you did write about this kind of subject differently if you were aiming at the lower age end of the young adult audience. I can't help feeling it is a compromise that doesn't quite work and feels out of place. I don't think Young Adults are the issue (as far as I can tell Young Adults, even young Young Adults quite like this kind of dystopian vision (even if my personal Young Adult expresses general contempt for the whole genre)) but Doctor Who tie-in novels need to be aware that actually quite young children are going to be reading them. Of course, quite young children tend to be blissfully unaware of this kind of subject matter unless it is spelled out very explicitly. The Eyeless therefore tries to have its cake and eat it by alluding to but not confronting the issue of forced pregnancy and yet framing it as an issue of limited options rather than coercion. On the whole this undermines the world-building. Either there is choice which, given the set-up, suggests rather more women than the one with most power would be opting out of this or there is no choice and there is a very dark underbelly to this society which the book is glossing over.

I'm not sure the whole forced pregnancy thing is really necessary either. Yes, obviously, this is a community on the brink of extinction, but their lives would be grim and constrained enough as it was without bringing in somewhat dubious ideas about the need for aggressive repopulation. At the end of the day, I think this is a subject which has no business in a story unless you are prepared to treat it fully and tackle it head on and that would be completely out of place in a Doctor Who novel. I think one could argue that both the New Adventures and Torchwood occasionally fell into the trap of equating being grown up (or "too broad and deep") with issues around sex, and I think The Eyeless falls into this trap as well. It's only grown up to talk about sex if you can actually do so in a grown up fashion.

The framing story is oddly dissatisfying. The titular Eyeless are really just a side-show to the main plot about the weapon, which malfunctions conveniently and for reasons never explained as required by the plot. A lot of coincidence is involved. The obligatory teenage side-kick is, we are told, psychotic, but comes across more as a confused and somewhat rebellious teenager brought up by people with weirdly inconsistent attitudes to the value of children.

All that said though, this is a well-written tale with some genuine thematic depth to it that gives the regular Doctor Who style adventures some resonance. It has some fun set pieces as the Doctor tries to outwit the various forces arrayed against him and treats all its human characters with sympathy and nuance (The Eyeless less so). It's definitely got a bit more going for it than a lot of these novels.

All in all, this is a strange hybrid between the Doctor Who novels of the 1990s and the NuWho novels. I'm glad I read it, and its certainly interesting, but in the end I think it is a failed experiment that demonstrates that, in fact, the NuWho novels can't do the same kinds of things that the New Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures did.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/193014.html.