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06 September 2008 @ 08:54 pm
The story behind Campaign is an odd one. It was commissioned from Jim Mortimore by BBC Books based on a synopsis he submitted but, when he turned in the final manuscript it was so different from the synopsis it was rejected. It's the only original Who novel to be officially commissioned, fully written but never published. There's more to the story but I was never sufficiently enamoured of Jim Mortimore's writing that I could be bothered to learn what it was. However now Campaign is available online for free I thought it couldn't hurt to read it. It comes with extensive author's notes at the end in which, it is implied, the full sorry story of its non-publication is explained. I'm still not sufficiently interested to read them.

So, the universe has vanished, there is only the TARDIS (or possibly the Tardis) and its four (possibly five) inhabitants left. Desperately the TARDIS (or Tardis) crew try to recall the events that led them into this predicament, events that concern meeting Alexander the Great on his epic campaign towards and eventually into India (the Ancient Historians among my readers will notice a problem here - took me a bit longer to see it). So far so good but at about that point the plot stalls for 175 pages while the characters iterate through different versions of the past and present told generally as first person narratives most often by Ian (who is sometimes called Cliff). Each of these segments is beautifully written and crammed with ideas but the thought gradually dawns that the book isn't actually going anywhere. It's just show-casing what amounts to a series of mood pieces about shifting time-lines, worlds within worlds within Tardis's and the possible interactions of the principle characters and, a serious failing, all four of them have exactly the same voice, presumably Jim Mortimore's. You could dip into any of these segments at random and then have to spend the first couple of paragraphs trying to work out from the context who the narrator was. There is no real sense of distinct personalities among the crew, let alone among the many shifting versions of each crew member. The extensive chapter-by-chapter notes which I have skimmed briefly seem to suggest that the intention was that there is a progression here but mostly I'd say the book is marking time while Mortimore indulges in stylistic flourishes. There's a lovely little story within a story, though, about a Glammering.

A criticism I have of Mortimore's other books is that they have a habit of descending into incoherence at the end. Campaign wins out here. The ending at least makes sense but ultimately seems a bit trivial, as if a parlour trick has been played on you, and heightens the feeling that the majority of the book is an exercise in stylistic short prose writing. It also has precious little to do with Alexander the Great, at the end of the day, which was a disappointment too. I was quite interested in the hinted at story of the TARDIS crew's involvement in Alexander's life.

At the end of the day Campaign is an interesting oddity. There's plenty of good writing and lots of startling and interesting moments but it feels self-indulgent and the whole is distinctly less than the sum of it's parts.

WHO DAILY HTML: <lj user=louisedennis> reviews the novel <a href=http://louisedennis.livejournal.com/87147.html>Campaign</a>
daniel_saunders: Doctor Whodaniel_saunders on September 6th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Campaign, but talk about an incoherent ending and stylistic tricks coming at the expense of plotting reminds me of the same author's Eye of Heaven which tried (surprisingly successfully) to maintain the reader's attention by telling a fairly mundane story in a jumbled up order.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on September 6th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
Eye of Heaven is actually one of my favourite Mortimore's. Among other things IIRC he pulls of Leela's voice extremely well, making it unique and distinctive, which I really didn't think he managed in Campaign.
reggietate: gingernickreggietate on September 6th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
Have downloaded the PDF, thanks for posting about this. I've read some of JM's Who books, and quite liked them, and why turn down a freebie, eh? :-)

I think it's a pity the adult Doctor Who novels have been discontinued in the wake of the new series, I don't see why they couldn't have continued quite happily alongside it. And why shouldn't they be reprinted for older fans who stopped buying them or new ones who never had the chance to do so? I fell out of the habit of buying the novels some time before the end, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be glad to have that opportunity now. People's interest in fandom often wanes for a while and then returns - that's certainly the case for me.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on September 6th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)
It was the freebie offer that finally tempted me to read the book too. Though it does suggest making a donation to Bristol Downs' Syndrome Association (my family is actually quite involved with Downs' Syndrome charities already, though not the Bristol local one so, at present, I'm salving my conscience with the cheap programming time the DSMIG has had off me and my monthly subscription to the Scottish DSA).

It's not entirely clear why the adult 'Who novels ceased to exist though I think the word "branding" may be involved (after all it would have been difficult to prevent young children reading them - even as it is I believe ladyofastolat has the current Young Adult range shelved in the library children's section simply because there is nothing else available for young Who fans to read). I suspect there may also have been concern that the existing stable of writers were used to writing interwoven, linked narratives and it might be hard to get them to break the habit if writing for the same demographic.

As for re-printing I suspect the branding problem bites doubly, since you certainly don't want eight year-olds picking some of them up expecting the further adventures of Ten and Donna and that the market of fans wanting to pick the lines up again is surprisingly small. People more integrated in the Who spinoffery world keep saying that sales for "classic" Who merchandise have, if anything, diminished since the start of the New Series.

All that said are you aware that some of the Virgin Books have been turned into e-books by the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/ebooks/index.shtml)? You may still have been reading at that point, but I believe the Virgin contract reverted all copyright to the authors once their books had been out of print long enough thus allowing them to re-licence them to the Doctor Who website. The fact that none of the BBC books have been archived in this way rather suggests the copyright situation is more complex.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on September 6th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
I downloaded this some time ago but haven't yet read it. Given the self-referentiality evident in the concept I'm not surprised at your conclusion, though I'd still like to get round to reading it myself.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on September 8th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)
It's certainly worth reading, I'd say, if you're interesting in Who fiction but it could have used an edit to tighten it up.
Greg McElhatton: Doctor Huh?gregmce on September 10th, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)
The problem is, I think an edit would have ended up trimming about 70% of the novel.

There's a moment where you can almost see Mortimore look at the calendar—and realize that his deadline (already blown twice) is so close that he really should be looking at a clock. And then the frantic, circular writing kicks into high gear... vamping for time, or perhaps more importantly the minimum word count to be sent off to the BBC. :)
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on September 10th, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)
I'd not really thought about the word count but, yeah! if you edited the self-indulgence down there wouldn't be a lot left.

I've read the a author's notes a bit more carefully now and while I appreciate Mortimore's frustrations over the contract process (though I've started jobs without contracts myself in the past and looks like I could be doing so again in 20 days' time *note to self, send HR another email*) I have a lot of sympathy for Justin's suggestion that he should either write the Alexander story or the Tardis story since they don't appear to have a great deal to do with each other whatever Mortimore may think.