Matthew Kresal checks out another Eighth Doctor Adventure...
Looking back at that gap between televised Doctor Who which lasted between December 1989 and March 2005, it is sometimes hard for me to understand how it could be called the “Wilderness Years.” There was one book after another, virtually every month, Big Finish audios coming out monthly from 2000, a new monthly issue of Doctor Who Magazine and so forth. Then again, I came into Doctor Who in 2007 when the New Series had established itself and the Wilderness Years were well and truly over. That time period though produced some extraordinary and influential tales, including Alien Bodies. A 1997 novel from Lawrence Miles that I've spent years trying to track down at an affordable price and one that I've finally managed to read at last.
Those readers familiar with the New Series, especially its most recent seasons under Steven Moffat, will likely find themselves experiencing a bit of deja vu. There's the idea of a war in the Time Lords future, the Doctor encountering his own future dead body, a companion whose revealed to have multi-time lines (or sets of bio-data as its referenced to here) and a sequence early in the novel where someone jumps into the TARDIS as it sits parked on the side of the building, to name just a few examples. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the New Series will see the influences on The Last Great Time War that has dominated much of its back-story, as well as the influences on several Moffat stories including The Impossible Astronaut/Day Of The Moon and The Name Of The Doctor especially. There's more to it than that though.
Alien Bodies also features pre-echoes of the New Series in style. There's the way for example that Miles reinvents one of the most maligned monsters of the classic series, this echoes some of the more successful reintroductions of recent years. Also, while Miles is writing for the eighth Doctor, and certainly captures Paul McGann's Doctor, his dialogue especially echoes that of Matt Smith's Doctor. Indeed once one moves past the prologue, it feels like a New Series two-parter expanded upon to fit the novel's page count, with the last scene easily being a final scene with some voiceover and a Murray Gold score on top of. In the end then I can't help but feel that, for all Miles rails on his blog against the New Series, in this one book he invented so much of it in the space of 313 pages
Moving on from its influences on the New Series, Alien Bodies is just a damn good book. In a way it's interesting to compare Alien Bodies with its immediate predecessor in the EDAs, John Peel's ill-regarded War Of The Daleks. Both books make strong use of the show's then 35 year continuity with references from it sprinkled throughout, interludes between large chunks of the narrative and large cast of characters. Miles manages to do all of that and he does it more successfully than Peel. Why? Because unlike Peel he doesn't become a slave to continuity, and he is also more than capable of poking fun at the same time that he's rehabilitating a much maligned monster. His interludes are connected to the main story, helping to fill in chunks of what got the characters to where they are at the novel's beginning, rather than being inconsequential cutaways just to bring in a random piece of continuity. While I would argue that Peel did well with his characters in War of The Daleks, the ones that Miles presents feel more tangible, more real (possibly because they're not all Thal soldiers or Daleks).
It also helps that Miles has a wonderful writing style. His prose flows rather nicely and he handles the ever shifting tone of the narrative deftly as he goes from serious revelations (those “cliffhanger moments” of the classic series), to Douglas Adams style moments of whimsy, to explosions and character moments without the narrative ever getting lost. This is also the book that introduced Faction Paradox and the aforementioned war in the Time Lords future against “the Enemy” that would come to dominate much of the range for years to come. It's easy to see this book as being to the EDAs what I think Paul Cornell's Timewyrm: Revelation was for the New Adventures: where they really began.
For all that, and for so much more, Alien Bodies might be the best Doctor Who book you've never read. Now I'm sure the majority of you reading this review have read it but for fans such as myself, who came in after the party that was the Wilderness Years had given way to the New Series, it's a book that we might never get the chance to read. It's certainly the kind of novel that we're unlikely to ever see Doctor Who produce again. So if you can find a copy of Alien Bodies, and you can afford it once you have, get it!
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.