The Dalek Invasion of Earth
Christmas on a Rational Planet
The Eight Doctors
The Taking of Planet 5
The Ancestor Cell
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|Synopsis: In a building that doesn't exist, a very strange auction is taking place. The arrival of the Doctor throws more than a spanner into the works - and when he finds out just who is on the guest list, things threaten to turn out even more dangerously than he could possibly imagine.
A Review by Oliver Thornton 27/3/98
A darkly macabre adventure, it is hard to say much about it without the risk of giving it away. An auction which could be the single most important event in the history of civilisation, according to the Doctor, run by an incompetent small-time crook with big ideas is the setting.
This is a story about the Doctor and for the Doctor, despite the deviations to explain each of the bidding party's interest in the auction. People who might be considered the "companions" are sidelined for the most part, leaving the Doctor to unravel what is going on and prevent the only lot in the auction falling into the wrong hands. Action happens all over the place, and mostly (but not always) advances the plot towards a challenging conclusion. The introduction seems a bit unconnected until the very end, but manages to make the novel feel well-rounded. On the other hand, the larger-scale developments need some thinking about in order to make real sense of them.
On the whole, I think this is a strange novel, which takes some getting used to.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 24/6/98
I had just about given up all hope on the eighth Doctor books. After two rather pedestrian outings (Kursaal and War of the Daleks), I had lost much of my faith in the new line of BBC novels about the eight Doctor and Sam. So, when a friend shoved a copy of Alien Bodies into my hands with words of how it might just restore my faith in the BBC books, I was as skeptical as my favorite female FBI agent.
The skepticism lasted one chapter into Alien Bodies.
At long last, this was a book that built on the superb groundwork laid out in Vampire Science and The Dying Days. That this novel was originally proposed to be a Virgin NA may have been part of why I loved it so much, but not the whole reason. Simply put, Alien Bodies is a superlative novel that grabs your interest in the first chapter and doesn't let down until the final pages of the novel. It's what the Doctor Who books should be and a high standard for the BBC line.
The premise is an intriguing one--an auction has been arranged for various groups to bid on what is referred to throughout the novel as the Relic. It could be a weapon, it could be something more. What it is is quite intriguing and I'd be giving away some major suprises if I revealed it here. But trust me, it's a dandy.
But the success not only lies in the plot but also in the characters. Lawrence Miles has concocted a set of very real, very interesting, three-dimensional supporting cast that rivals the great supporting casts Robert Holmes created. Each one is unique and memorable. Miles sprinkles the action with character asides to give the reader a unique understanding of these cast members. Uusally in a novel with this many supporting characters, they can run together. But Miles is able to make them all distinguishable and memorable here.
And while Miles is incredible at defining the supporting cast, he is superb at defining the Doctor and Sam. This is the duo that worked so well in Vampire Science and they work well here. Miles is able to show that the eighth Doctor is a product of all his previous selves, but still able to stand alone as a unique, new character. The eighth Doctor is just that--the eighth Doctor and not some carbon copy of a previous Doctor inserted into the novel. And Sam gets some of her best development in several novels. A great portion of the book talks about the idea of what the companion means to the Doctor and Sam fits perfectly into this mold.
An intriguing plot with complex, interesting characters, and some real exploration of the new Doctor. What more can you possible ask for?
That Lawrence Miles write another book.
Wow by Robert Smith? 4/7/98
As one-word reviews go, that's probably the best I can do. This book is absolutely awesome, probably more so because of the relatively poor quality of the majority of books preceding it.
There are so many thing I loved about Alien Bodies. From the opening prologue, which plays wonderfully with the odd perceptions the previous books have built up (just when the reader has finished playing "Guess which previous Doctor this eighth Doctor is going to be" it turns out to be a previous Doctor!), to the appearance of naff old enemies (a trick straight out of No Future, including sniggering), to the digs at War of the Daleks, to the revelation of just what the artifact is, to the structure of the storytelling, to the characters at the auction. I don't want to go into too much detail here, mainly because everything cool I could point out about the book, Lawrence Miles already has within the text.
Probably my favourite character was, naturally, Mr Shift. This was one cool, erm, guy. In fact, my only real disappointment was that he turned out to be villainous. I'd have really, really preferred to keep him around (not that he can really ever be gotten rid of) as a sort of temporal supporting character.
However, most of the other characters were quite interesting. Homunculette in particular was very well developed, as was his, um, companion. The backstory where we are properly introduced to him was very well done, playing with perceptions and the prejudices we have about the DW universe. Quixotl was also interesting, especially his panic when the Doctor turns up and his response to getting killed. I was a little confused about whether the Dead Man was the same or related to the Black Man (from Homunculette's story), because they seemed rather similar. Whether this was intentional or not, considering the parts each ultimately played, I'm really not sure.
What surprised me the most was the treatment of the regulars. The Doctor was not only a competent portrayal of the eighth Doctor, but actually an interesting one (it didn't quite sit 100% right for me, but at this point I'm grabbing onto anything I can). The opening sequence in particular, with the modelling in the TARDIS was particularly delightful. I also like the confusion the Doctor experiences, in marked contrast to the seventh Doctor, who would have tried to bluff it out in a situation like this. The artifact is also well done, especially in the scene where it 'summons' Bregman. I also loved the fact that it was never confirmed just what was in the casket and there are hints at the end that it might have been far more complicated than anyone suspects.
However, it was Sam that surprised me the most. Not because she's particularly well done, but because I think Miles has found the perfect way to handle this difficult companion: he's all but ignored her. That is, he hasn't bothered giving Sam great slabs of internal monologue, which I think is a very sensible decision. An unlikable character only grows more unlikable when we have to see every single little event from her perspective. Furthermore, most of Sam's problems are internal (her lack of confidence, her paranoia, her mood swings, her constant angsting) so seeing the outside 'mask' that she puts on for the world is infinitely preferable to seeing the tortured and uninteresting character within. Then there's the revelation about "dark Sam". I really enjoyed this because a) it's the first time someone has done anything interesting with the character b) Dark Sam was far more interesting than Blonde Sam (and it's a pity we didn't get this companion for the novels) and c) It's another delightful dig at the other books in this line, pointing out the stupidities inherent in the companion :-)
I also quite enjoyed the references to the backstory in Saskatoon. Unfortunately, Lawrence Miles seems to be under the impression that Saskatoon is in Ontario (it's actually in Saskatchewan), but finally seeing an important alien invasion and future-UNIT beating back the oppressing forces in Canada is an absolute delight. Speaking of UNISYC, I was both frustrated and entertained by the non-revelation of the acronym, moreso when Sam even asks about it and is immediately interrupted.
The Krotons are made rather more sinister villains than they ever were on TV, even though other characters snigger and make fun of them when they appear. The attempts to broaden their background by attempting plausibility work far better than the similar attempt in The Bodysnatchers, mainly because they also leave the delights of the original intact, unlike the former tome. Then there's the delight of their introduction, considering just who was on the original guest list...
I was a bit confused about the Faction Paradox while reading this book. While the idea is very well done (especially the hints about just who Grandfather Paradox might be), for most of the book I was convinced that they were The Enemy. Miles has obviously gone to great lengths to conceal the identity of The Enemy (and rightly so, although I have my suspicions and there is a certain reference to a certain planet which makes this suspicion seem even more likely), but in doing so the wording went a bit astray. Once I worked out that the Faction weren't the enemy, I was a bit confused about just why Homunculette attacked Justine, or whether it was the Faction or the Enemy who had been responsible for the cessation of time travel.
Still, these things are great to argue about and that's what I like about this book. For the first time since Lungbarrow we've been given a DW book where there's more going on than just the simple plot. There are things unresolved and hints and suspicions for fans to argue and debate. For the first time in almost a year, it feels like we've been given Doctor Who back to us. It's a good feeling.
Other things I liked: the Celestis, which made a lot of sense; basing the location on the movie Brigadoon and then telling us about it; the oh-so-Doctorish trick that he pulls at the end. This in particular gave me the feeling that aside from all the undercurrents and hints, this was still a DW story at heart.
In summary, this is a book that is simply a must read for DW fans everywhere. It reconfigures the Whoniverse, provides lots and lots of hints about what is to come in many of the important elements of the DW universe and is basically a fascinating read. It feels like everything that made DW good is back after an enforced absence. I certainly wouldn't want a book like this every month and I hope there are a number of completely separate story arcs waiting to be developed for the eighth Doctor line, but this is a first step in the right direction and it's a very good first step. This book isn't simply recommended, it's firmly placed on the 'required reading' list for any students of the DW universe.
The Best NA So Far by Sean Homrig 9/8/99
Before I begin, let me explain that my reading experience of the 8th Doctor novels has only gone so far as Alien Bodies, and I haven't read anything beyond that. There's lots of great potential in some of these stories, but somehow they always fall flat.
They're can be too complicated (War of the Daleks), they can be completely uneventful (Genocide), or, saints preserve us, they can be just plain dreadful (The Eight Doctors). Alien Bodies, fortunately, takes everything you love above the PDA's and serves it all up as an 8th Doctor adventure. We have lots of cool aliens, an old nemesis that most fans may forgotten, some good scenes with Sam, and even a sprinkling of Gallifrey history.
Like The Curse of Peladon, the Doctor arrives smack-dab into an intergalactic meeting of the minds. There's a handful of great characters and alien races here, and not a single one of them is wasted. While reading Genocide, I could sympathize with the Tractites as characters but couldn't quite grasp Paul Leonard's description of them as an alien race (I have to admit I got them confused with the Tractators from Frontios at first). In Alien Bodies, however, Lawrence Miles' descriptions of the aliens are very impressive.
It has been mentioned in an earlier review and I'll be unoriginal by stating it again: it's a brilliant idea to interrupt the story with various little shorts describing each character and how they came to be involved. I found myself looking forward to these bits as I read. Miles explains the most mysterious characters last (i.e., Mr. Shift and Mr. Trask), which is a nice technique to hold you in suspense. I also loved Sam's humorous asides: in the beginning, she is introduced by listing a number of odd things the Doctor did that morning. I was also tickled later when she said something like, "Mexican chairs look Mexicany, African chairs look Africany, and English chairs look Englishy. But these chairs don't look like anythingy." Miles is humorous without going too far over the top.
This story could have been bad. Real bad. Like something the show's producers would use as an anniversary special. Throw in the Master, the Daleks, another incarnation of the Doctor, and you have a true mess with people running up and down corridors. Instead, we have variations on other Who regulars (instead of the Master we have Mr. Homunculus, instead of UNIT we have a mad respresentative from another militant Earth organization, and instead of the Daleks we have...well, wait and see), and the result is a near masterpiece with people running up and down corridors.
To reveal anything about the plot apart from what you can read from the back cover would be sacrilege. To reveal the mastery of this plot, I would have to reveal exactly what the relic is, how the opening sequence ties in, and the true intentions of the various bidders. Just take my word, and the word of every other Who fan who has read it, that it's worth the read. I must say, however, that there was one point in the novel when things turned a little too bizarre, and that was when the events surrounding the presence of Mr. Trask unfolded. For those of you that read the book, you might know what I'm talking about, but for those that haven't read it, I urge you to read it for yourselves.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 20/10/99
I bought Longest Day about three weeks ago, and it took me that long to finish it.
I bought Alien Bodies yesterday.
There are times when a book comes out and most people can write my review for me. I wouldn't say I'm totally predictable, but there is a certain type of book that it's safe to say I'll really like.
Alien Bodies was, from all that I had heard, one of these books. I was prepared to be blown away by what people were calling the best Who book of 1997.
I was right.
PLOT: Actually, the plot is rather simple, on the face of it. Big auction, lots of different factions, Doctor tries to stop it, hijinx ensue. The beauty of this book is watching Lawrence Miles take these ideas and twist them in such a way that we're totally bowled over by them. Not even the smallest cliche is safe from this book. Anything can happen.
THE DOCTOR: Boy howdy, was he cool. I mean, we got the total 8th Doctor experience here, even when the Shift was making his mind do other things. He's vibrant, he's bouncy, he's mildly manipulative (chuckle), and he's faced with something that is, let's face it, totally unexpected.
SAM: Um. What to say, what to say...actually, she was perhaps the least developed character in the book. However, this does seem deliberate for once, as we're led to realise that Sam is not entirely what she seems... heck, the other characters are constantly remarking on her genericness. The Companion. His Pet. Geez...^_^
VILLAIN: Hmm...The Celesti, I guess. Actually rather creepy in concept, especially with their twisted 'honor'. However, in terms of actual Who-style villainy, the Shift probably comes closest.
OTHERS: I want to see so many of these people in future books! I want to see Marie (and Homonculette, I suppose, though he's a git), I want to see what happens to Justine, I want to see more of Quixotl, etcetcetc. If ever a book cried out for sequels...
STYLE: Remember what I said about Longest Day's pace? The exact opposite for Alien Bodies. It was the longest BBC NA I've read to date, but it just FLEW by. I didn't want it to end. Oh, and this book is also funny. Very funny. As in 'THE KROTONS?!?! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!' funny.
OVERALL: Brilliant. It's hard to find things to say about this book, because I'm still taking it all in. I really, really hope some of this background is picked up in future books. This was worth waiting for American bookstores to get.
A Review by Tom Wilton 8/4/00
We Who fans do like to make comparisons between our show and others. Perhaps the most famous of these comparisons is the Who/James Bond (supposed) similarities, but I'm saving that for when I get around to looking at Frontier Worlds and White Darkness. If we were to look for a series to compare the EDAs to, the only candidate I can come up with is (unsurprisingly) the Virgin New Adventures.
On my first reading of Alien Bodies, I didn't realise how important it was going to be to the range as a whole. When I reviewed Vampire Science I called it a manifesto for what the EDAs were trying to achieve. Writing this review in a post-Interference, twenty-first century, it is apparent that Alien Bodies was the true manifesto of the EDA range.
This is the novel that finally wakes the series up. I say 'finally' because, although Revelation was the fourth in the range of the Virgin novels and Alien Bodies is only the sixth, the previous novels - with the exception of Vampire Science - have been predominantly pedestrian. This can be attributed to the behind the scenes activities at BBC Worldwide, which left the early series with no definite direction and a range editor with little or no apparent interest in the novels. By Alien Bodies, things have begun to improve, and this comes through in an arresting and engaging story with many pertinent questions at its heart.
The central action introduces us to a colourful cast, each with their own motivation to possess the mysterious Relic put on sale by Quixotl. The standout characters for me had to be Shift, Homunculette and Marie, and the Faction Paradox (more on them later), the UNISYC representatives, and... oh, who am I kidding? Lawrence Miles has managed to present a full cast of three dimensional characters who actually interest the reader (I know. And you thought that this was impossible in a Who novel!), and I would gladly welcome a return from any of this colourful crew.
But the real case of interest for me had to be the characterisation of Sam. Now, I never hated Sam (I left that to countless others), but admit that she was slow to grow on me. This however was not unusual, I felt the same about Cwej and Forrester. However, in Alien Bodies Sam comes into her own. As a fully paid up member of the 'Scream' generation I love self-awareness in my media. With Alien Bodies we have a novel where practically all the characters are saying the same things about Sam that the fans were. We get countless comments on how generic she is, and in the novel we finally get an explanation for it (though had the novel been truly self-aware, the answer would have been that Sam was a result of lazy and disinterested editorship).
It is fair to say that the developments with Sam, begun in this novel, are a clear case of making the best of a bad situation. The series had been lumbered with a poor companion from the outset, but writing Sam out - as many wanted - would have been an admission by the BBC. Instead, we are given an interesting explanation about biodata editing (see, bad editing, like I said!) and a few clues about who is responsible.
The Doctor has recovered from the poor characterisation of War of the Daleks and is back on track. This is very much the same Doctor seen in Vampire Science and The Bodysnatchers, struggling to keep up with events around him. It is pleasing to see, at last, that it is possible to have a novel in which both members of the TARDIS crew are well characterised. Congratulations are to be given to Lawrence Miles.
And so to the meat of Alien Bodies: the introduction of the Faction Paradox. I love them; a wonderfully visual set of people with spacecraft built out of skeletons, bat-skull masks and opera gowns. Technology stolen from the Time Lords and a dubious moral code which could well have come from Gallifrey too. I don't even have the reservations that many others do. I'm happy to welcome a group of people who can shake up my Whoniverse. I'm prepared to be challenged in my preconceptions about what can or cannot happen - or did or did not happen. as the case may be. I look on the Faction Paradox as the bogeymen of the EDA world. Just like the Carnival Queen of Miles's previous Doctor Who novel, Christmas on a Rational Planet, they represent everything that the Time Lords stand against. They are confusion and chaos in the clockwork universe of Gallifrey. I don't think I'd even call them villains or evil. In fact, there is a part of me who is cheering them on.
There is so much I've not mentioned in this review, such as the whole future war of Gallifrey and the Celestis, but there will be later opportunities for me to comment on these in the range. Suffice to say there are plenty of oblique references to stuff that is going to happen/might happen/has already happened and you are going to be confused. That is, of course, unless you are Lawrence Miles. In which case you know exactly what's going on, I imagine. Lucky sod!
In short: read this book. It's big, scary and important, and its ripples are still being felt. It showed what the BBC books could be and could restore your faith in the EDA range. Mr Miles, my hat is bowed to you.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 29/11/00
Prior to Alien Bodies' release, The Doctor and new Companion, Sam Jones, had been forced to deal with the same tired faces we'd seen through the years -- Daleks, Zygons, even the Vampires (whose literary resurfacing began with Virgin's New Adventures) -- in adventures that, other than Kate & Jon's Vampire Science (and looking back now, I find that it was good, but it certainly wasn't earth-shattering or ground-breaking), were rather bland and forgettable! With this story, we are given a different perspective on how the Doctor fits into the Universe, even hinting at what role he now plays (considering his manipulations and hidden agendas so prevalent in his prior Incarnation!). Miles even manages to make some allusions to his being cast as "Time's Champion", causing him to wonder if it was truly the right choice.
Sam Jones is handled well here, one of the first books to give her some direction, decent dialogue, allowing her to grow into something other than an "Ace" clone. We see that she has inner fears, fears that she is learning to overcome, and with the support and nurturing of The Doctor, she able to come to grips with things in her Life.
And, it is in this book that the series begins to examine what sort of a relation does the Companion actually share with The Doctor? Can it be something more than just a "red-shirted crewmember", disposable, replaceable? Or can it be a deeper bond, one in which perhaps even the Companions themselves can feel something for their travelling partner? It is in here that Sam begins to question what she feels for The Doctor, wondering how she fits into his life, and ultimately, these feelings will be dealt with in the Sam Is Missing Story Arc, which follows immediately after Alien Bodies.
This book is especially significant as this is the book that introduces us to the Faction Paradox (tho' they are alluded to in Miles' 7th Doctor NA, Christmas On A Rational Planet). These guys are creepy, easily the scariest Who villains (?) since Fenric! I mean, it's not bad enough their into a warped variation on voodoo, but then they go and manipulate the TimeStream in whatever manner suits them.
Thus, History becomes an unstable idea, something which can be rewritten/reworked as easily as a journal entry! And, if you've read as far as Interference, then you know what is in store for The Doctor and what sort of role they will play in his Life from then on!
Equally disturbing are The Celestis, also introduced in this book. Not since the events of The Trial of a Time Lord have I been left with such a bad taste in my mouth at the thought of the Time Lords. The Celestial Intervention Agency has always been a bit of cold-hearted group, fueled by their own motives and desires, in an effort to hold onto what they consider the Traditions and Values of Gallifrey. Yet, at the onset of a war in Gallifrey's future, one in which they knew about, they disappear, literally, wiping out their own existance to take on a new one, a less corporeal one, in an effort to survive! I've recently picked up The Taking of Planet 5, which is supposed to flesh out the further machinations of The Celestis and the role they will play in the Great War! Miles hints at little side trips that The Doctor has made, in various Incarnations.. Like the conflict at Saskatoon, in his Second Incarnation, leaving a very irate General Tchike without the weapons cache he sought! As well as the other meeting with Mr. Quixotl.. And other equally enjoying, equally teasing glimpses into the past. Everyone should write Mr. Miles, as well as the current Editor at the BBC Books, urging them to get these short stories written, perhaps even expand them, into a novel. Now there is a plan if ever there was one..!
Final thoughts.. A deep novel, that, quite honestly, was far better the seond time around. It became easier to understand, knowing what I know will transpire later in the series. My only regret is it took me this long to get around re-reading it -- But, it was worth it..
A Wild and Complicated Ride by Steve Crow 5/4/01
Don't pick up this book and expect Lawrence Miles to go easy on you. There's a lot of concepts and stuff being tossed out, and if you're not careful you'll be overwhelmed. I'd suggest taking a break of a day or so every few chapters, but then unless you're taking notes you're likely to forget the gist of what's going on.
It's certainly a fun novel: the 8th Doctor bounces along as is usual (although in a way that only a few writers have been able to capture). He's half all-knowing, half nuts, and half flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants. Sam is a stereotypical companion in this novel...but portraying her as a stereotypical companion seems to be Miles' goal.
The villains are suitably villainous while still being fairly...human. Except the Krotons, which Miles obviously has a great deal of fun poking at (such as having characters note they can't understand what they're saying either).
The real surprise is how inconsequential the story is. The Relic is more of a McGuffin then anything: the Doctor can't let anyone get their hands on it, and if the Relic falls into the wrong hands there will be dire off-screen consequences. Still, what actually happens in the story itself is rather...inconsequential, somehow. The Doctor must keep the Krotons from killing everyone, but that doesn't really drive the story.
Still, Alien Bodies is a highly entertaining piece, and in my opinion probably the best story I've read of Mr. Miles.
All Dressed Up and No Place To Go by Andrew McCaffrey 22/5/01
Alien Bodies is probably one of the most frustrating Doctor Who books I've read in a long time. Frustrating because it contains some of the best concepts and ideas that the Doctor Who line has had in years, yet utterly fails to do anything remotely interesting with them. It feels as though much more thought went into coming up with these great concepts than into sitting down and thinking about how these wonderful ideas would make a worthwhile book.
The plot is almost non-existent, as virtually the entire book seems to be the set-up to something that never happens. Far too much of the main action happens off-screen in the distant future, so it's hard to feel any real emotion for it. The ending is especially annoying with the Doctor able to hop back and forth between reality and the Celestis plane of existence with ease despite not having heard about them before and knowing next to nothing about them. It feels like a complete cop-out.
I felt that the characterization of the main characters was also rather poor. Homunculette in particular seemed to be a one-note person and the fact that he was in so much of the book really turned me off of it. I got rather annoyed that every time he showed up he was shouting and screaming. Roaring for almost an entire book and then crying for one scene does not an interesting character make. The Shift (a creature made up of purely mental energy) almost made up for this, although a good concept and great execution does not necessarily make for a good character.
I'll go over some of the good ideas and how I thought they failed to make good on their potential. Faction Paradox - great idea and questions the fundamental aspects of time travel which is something that has never really been done in quite this way in the series' history. The Celestis - again, a wonderful idea that takes something we've seen before and puts a new twist to it. Dark Sam - almost anything would improve the regular Sam, but this is actually something intriguing. The future war and the enemy - good ideas that lay the seeds for the future. Unfortunately, that last sentence seems to sum up all of the elements in the book. It's so concerned about making the future a more interesting place that it forgets about the present. We are told about Faction Paradox's great powers and plans, but apart from a bit of voodoo and a spooky TARDIS we don't actually witness anything. The same goes for the future war and the enemy, and this is based on the fact that the Doctor can't know too much about events that have yet to happen in his personal time-line. The problem that results is that everything has to be taken on faith. The reader has to assume that Faction Paradox can do what's said of them, just as the reader has to assume that the future war is as important as it's said to be. And that's where the real problem lies; with so much of the story either happening off-screen or just being told and not shown, the whole thing ends up feeling hollow and unreal.
So, at the end of the day, we're left with a book that's bursting with good ideas, but that doesn't have any real way of tying them together. It's more of a checklist of concepts than a book in it's own right. Maybe this was written as a teaser for better things to come, but the story just didn't work for me.
A Review by Rob Matthews 26/10/01
Mulling over this novel a thought occured to me:
The Virgin New Adventures were all about character exploration and development; a sort of epic soap opera. Their general aims were, if you like, to both answer and confound the question 'Doctor who?'. They were about unifying the chequered history of the many Doctors from the TV series, and to show the effects of this life of adventuresome and dangerous meddling on the man himselves.
The general aim of the BBC Eighth Doctor series, meanwhile, appears to be to explore what would have happened if the telemovie had gone to a series. Would it be generic and dull like just about every other science fiction series on US TV ever? Or would it have been fresh and spiky and novel like, say, Twin Peaks?
It certainly showed few signs of great inspiration (except on the part of the Tardis set designer), so in all probability it would have been disappointing. But you can do anything you like in written fiction, right? So let's just imagine what would have happened if a series had been commisioned with both budget and imagination...
Alien Bodies - and I hope the above doesn't make me sound disparaging - is a good example of this approach. Not that the story couldn't have been written as an NA, of course, but stylistically it seems to go right with the telemovie ethos. It's constructed as an edifice. The description of the confined but huge ziggurat prompts you to picture not just a location in the story, but also a big movie set. There are 'special effects sequences' to go with Miles' landslide of ideas, all just waiting to be CGI-ed up. It gives the impression of having a huge budget. That may sound a bizarre claim to make for a book, given that all of them are limited to the same cheap 26 letters and bits of punctuation, but it's able to trade on our image of McGann swanning around on film rather than videotape, and Miles' style counts for a lot. If Paul Cornell or Kate Orman had written it, for example, you might not have pictured the sets so shiny. And you might have known a lot more about Quixotl. You'll notice that here even character-related concepts have a neat visual referent - that's not just a different Sam, it's Dark Sam.
Not that I'm suggesting Miles is all surface. In fact the lack of detailed, prosey character exploration amidst the conceptual FX creates a memorably disturbing effect. The Doctor's steadfast refusal to give in to introspection or despair when confronted with the relic is far more effective and telling than any amount of traumatic synonyms would have been, just as the stark final scene says it all without saying that much. I dunno, maybe the ratio of 'style' to 'substance' just goes to demonstrate our comparative insignificance - concepts, battles and politics are bigger than any of the people caught up in them. They stay; we go. It's a theme that just works for this subject matter. If it's 'all dressed up with nowhere to go' that's because, in the end, so are we.
(still, it ain't over til it's over, and by then it's too late to get sad..)
The book also provides a good debut for Faction Paradox, a villainous sect who feel inevitable yet inspired ('Grandfather Paradox' just sounds so sinister). I have yet to read Intereference et al, and the Future War arc has had some pretty bad reviews, but they're established well here and have definite potential. And they would have been a fitting recurring villain for a TV series too.
Certainly a classic piece of Doctor Who fiction and worthy of a place in the top ten must-reads for any fan.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 27/2/02
Alien Bodies is one of those books that makes your toes tingle from the first paragraph onward.
Lawrence Miles's first offering to the BBC line set the tone for the remainder of the Stephen Cole editorial era. The concepts, ideas and plotlines causing debate, discussion and argument in fandom still.
The odd thing is that when you think back on it, it a simple, old fashioned Doctor Who story complete with menacing villains, a couple of plot twists and a very Doctor-ish trick trick by the end.
But the fun is in the details....
Miles tackles something which was never done during the Virgin Run -- the future, specificially the future of the Time Lords themselves. And what a dark future it is: embroiled in a war with a time-aware enemy, finding their own people splitting up into different groups with their own agendas (Faction Paradox, The Celestis) and unsure whther or not they'll triumph in the end.
Miles also questions the development of the Eighth Doctor, Samantha Jones, the BBC novels themselves and many other facets of DW in general.
Where Miles succeeds, for me, is that he manages to do this within the context of the story and for the good of the story -- or so it seems. As I read this book, the ideas crashing down on me like stage divers at a Slayer show. However, it never felt forced or showy to me. Everything Miles wanted to discuss came about because he felt it worked for the novel. Compare this to Unnatural History and you'll see what I mean.
There's also a wonderful homage to Robert Holmes happening in Alien Bodies. Examples include powerful and interesting villains, a casual disdain for hard TV continuity, double acts, con men, and a fairly light tone that grows darker as the chapters pass along.
The characters, and what a bunch, are fabulous. The Doctor is fabulous. He's portryaed as someone interested in the little things, as well as the bigger picture, without coming across as a ninny. Miles does take a hard look at the character, but he constantly balances it by having him refered as a force of nature. Quite a few characters in the book mention how tough he is to beat, that he is the one guy you don't mess around with. Sam has her moments. She's shown to be a lot more than just an annoying PC Vegetarian sloganeer. We also get the first hints of Dark Sam -- shown as a possibility, not as a definite future or an alternate.
Though it is the guests who shine. Quixotl is a wonderful bag of slime. Mr. Shift was a great invention executed well. The Faction Members had a ghost-like quality to them. Homnculette and Marie were good fun. However, my personal fave was E-Kobalt --BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Methinks Bob Holmes would have approved.
I won't give away that much of the plot. Suffice to say, the book loves to give you kick in the teeth plot twists that dwarf even the talents of the mighty Justin Richards. It is the first BBC 8da that showed what the line was capable of and it marked the first of the Miles Masterpieces.
10 out of 10
This latest trip through Alien Bodies was prompted by a few things: a much needed Miles fix (after reading Legacy of the Daleks), that Finn Clark went through and re-read and revisited Interference and Dead Romance, that Mike Morris wrote this amazing, intellectual review a ways back, that I wanted to return to the Unthinkable City and its strange group of guests.
So, what did this most recent journey import to me?
Well? That Miles really digs the character of the Doctor and what the character really stands for. That he doesn't ignore Samantha Angelina Jones. That he created some of the best novel structures in either Who book line.
Which is a good place to begin. If Down is a parody of an old-fashioned action/adventure tale, then Alien Bodies is an old-fashioned action adventure tale. It's probably Miles's closest attempt to writing a novel that has the feel of the TV serials - particularly season 25 and 26 stories. However, being a novel, Miles is able to bring in the back stories of all the major bidders on the relic, where they would either be tossed off with a couple lines of dialogue, or ignored. Not only that, but the interludes come at the precise moment where they would have maximum impact on the reader. Whether or not Miles wrote the interludes separately, or as part of the course of the novel is irrelevant; either way, they blend in seamlessly.
Now, Miles has been accused of Doctor-Bashing in Alien Bodies (and Interference as well, but that's a discussion for another time). I don't see it. If anything, Miles is taking a few potshots at his fellow novelists who preceded him. There are a couple of moments early on where the Doctor seems worried about how his personality hasn't been settled in yet. It's a legitimate argument, especially if you've read War of the Daleks (Davison Clone) The Body Snatchers (Big Tommy B Jr.) or The Eight Doctors (Pertwee!!!!!!). Miles thought this lack of character was worthy of discussion, so he brought it up. He also mixes in a nice comparison between this incarnation and his previous one. At the very end, the Doctor thinks about how he can't just be a simple wanderer, that he's still obsessing about his role in the universe. And that he's still trying to hide his past, present and future. There's also a running theme about the bidders and Qixotl being scared shitless of the Doctor because he is a "Force of the Universe". It's a neat way of not only reinforcing the importance of the character, but expanding on Miles's reinterpretation of the Doctor as a mythic hero.
And what about dear Sam? If Interference is Sam Jones's best outing, then Alien Bodies is number two. No, we aren't privy to every thought in her blonde head, but there are other ways to establish some character. There's a wonderful moment where Sam is discussing the decor of the rooms in the ziggurat (the Englishy, Africany, Anythingy bit with the furniture) which nails the wise-ass teenager persona. The split biodata plot is a brilliant way to give this cardboard character some much-needed gravis. The interaction between Sam and the Doctor gives us some of the best companion-eye-views of everyone's hero. Put these disparate elements together, and IMHO, we have a companion we can relate to.
Beyond these three elements, Alien Bodies is probably the closest thing we have -- besides Demontage -- to an original DW novel by Robert Holmes. Most of the Holmesian elements are there: the reworking of the Time Lord mythos, the hustler/con artist mucking things up. The reworking of the Doctor's own myth, the brilliant interaction between Doc and companion, and of course, The Relic. Holmes was responsible for the Doctor's most heroic "death" (The Caves of Androzani), Miles takes it one step further by basing a story around the Doctor's final death and subsequent funeral.
And you know what the most amazing thing about Alien Bodies is?
That there's all this depth, all the intrigue of what happening to the Time Lords in the future, and the pages fly like an Uncle Terrance Dicks target novel.
Methinks that says it all.
Universe in a Bottle by Mike Morris 14/7/02
Odd to think that it's a mere five years since Alien Bodies popped up and blew everybody's mind. Five years and a whole lot of stories, many of which have used this book as their cornerstone. Now, with the reset switch hit on the big bad world of Doctor Who continuity, Alien Bodies has acquired a pleasing sense of being part of history. We can look upon it as many things, but now that it is unlikely to directly affect any subsequent work it's possible to examine the thing with a nice sense of detachment.
I think it's about five years since I first posted a review on this site as well (blimey!) and in that time my attitudes have leapt about a bit. I've made a few statements on these pages that I don't agree with any more; but if I could wipe one away, it would be what I said in a list of my ten favourite EDA's that I posted some time ago. I said I preferred Interference to Alien Bodies. I re-read both books lately and when I said that I was a fool.
I can see why I made the mistake. Where Interference has a vast, sweeping scale, Alien Bodies all takes place in a little ziggurat in the middle of Borneo. Where Interference concerns itself hugely with the Doctor (although it's very much a criticism of him), in Alien Bodies the Doctor is deceptively unimportant to the events unfolding around him. Interference gives us a city on the side of a planet-size bomb, but Alien Bodies has people in a room trying to buy something. And Interference is better-written to boot; in Alien Bodies Miles is still trying to come to terms with his expository writing, giving us long internal debates in character's heads, but by Interference he's confident enough to give us omniscient plot exposition and vast scenes written as a TV script. In short, Alien Bodies is a somewhat cruder work, although I'm judging by damn high standards here.
And yet Alien Bodies is a better work. Indeed, when one looks at Doctor Who stories in all media, only three rival this work for their ambition and newness. Namely - An Unearthly Child, which gave us the Doctor; The Deadly Assassin, which created Gallifrey as we know it; and Timewyrm: Revelation, which not only gave us the idea that the Doctor was a character that could be investigated, but gave us the Doctor Who Novel. Perhaps Warriors' Gate and Transit deserve a mention here also.
The Deadly Assassin is actually an interesting comparison. Both tales derive a lot of their energy from their reinvention of Time Lord society, of course, and both tales are far more interested in creating universes than they are in telling a story. Holmes' great triumph in The Deadly Assassin is in how easily he disguises the fact that his plot is dull-ish, doesn't hold together at all well, and certainly falls apart in the last episode. The best bits are superfluous to the main story - the matrix scenes, the "adjusting of the truth", the effortless creation of a decaying society. Similarly, Alien Bodies is nominally about an auction, plays to the crowd by having a Kroton go on a killing rampage and teases us with the promise of Daleks, but actually we're interested in the Celestis, the Faction, the War, UNISYC, Mictlan, the Shift, Dronid. In both stories it's the background and the cast of characters that really nourish the reader/viewer.
Two asides; first, if Alien Bodies is oddly similar to The Deadly Assassin, then Interference is analogous to The Invasion of Time; a longer, more detailed enlargement of the same ideas. Secondly, when I listed the interesting bits of Alien Bodies, I appeared to miss something out. I didn't. The death-of-the-Doctor thing is really no more than a clever shock-tactic and it's not as important as you might think. It's an enrichment of the basic premise, that a body could be used as a weapon, and it makes perfect sense to include this idea. But just as the Master in The Deadly Assassin could have been any old Time Lord really, the Relic could be any old body. Borusa or Rassilon or whoever. It's better that it was the Master, and the Doctor's body, and I'm not for a moment saying this isn't a stunning plot thread. The fact remains, though, that it's not important to the premise.
What is the premise of Alien Bodies then? Simple. A bunch of people meet up in a mysterious building in a forest, we find out their individual stories, and by so doing the tapestry of their universe unfolds before our eyes. And so, while one might think Alien Bodies is revolutionary, it's actually reminiscent of a very traditional type of story. Forget The Deadly Assassin; it's actually a SF descendant of The Canterbury Tales, or even more so The Castle Of Crossed Destinies. This is something which hasn't been done in Doctor Who before or since, largely because this type of book requires an amazing level of invention. Its purpose is to squeeze an entire universe into a single building and the stories of a few people, which is a hell of a trick to pull off, and Lawrence Miles does it so well that we don't even notice.
As an exercise, try reading just the prologue, epilogue, and the "Stories". The guts of Alien Bodies is there. The rest is just a bit of elaboration so we know exactly what Lawrence is talking about, and an overarching plot to keep us dryshite Doctor Who readers happy. Soda to go with our whiskey.
The Castle of Crossed Destinies, for the uninitiated (and sorry for getting all literary here) is an Italo Calvino book. A group of people spend the night in a castle in a forest. They're struck dumb, and can only communicate their respective tales with gestures and Tarot cards. Each tells their story, with each card symbolising an element of the tale. By the conclusion, therefore, every card has become charged with meaning; and the entire pack has been laid in a pattern on the table, all stories contained therein, and hence an entire world is condensed into a pattern of cards.
The similarities between this book and Alien Bodies may be completely unintentional for all I know, but they're very apparent. In Alien Bodies the cast of characters are struck dumb also, this time by their distrust of each other. They have no cards, but they have their appearances and their bids to give us a clue about where they are from; and the author then helpfully tells us their histories, helping us out a bit more. Trask, for example, tells us almost everything we really need to know about Mictlan. Homunculette's demeanour and Marie tells us all we need to know about the Time Lords. Faction Paradox are explained, really, by their headgear. But just as Calvino helpfully interprets each card for us through his narrator, Miles gives each participant a "story", charging the characters with meaning in the same way that Calvino makes a pack of cards mean everything. By the conclusion, Justine and Manjuele aren't just a couple of people in masks. They are Dronid, they are pollution and decay, they are "bloodless, withered limbs slipping into the sleeves", they are aged Cousins wetting themselves, they're debris and clockwork bacteria, they are orphanages and scars of silver, they are "divine and perfect Paradox". Icons of a way of life.
And if you don't believe me, well, look at the Faction's other appearances. Without this sort of backstory, well, they really are just silly people in masks aren't they?
In Alien Bodies we actually have whole empires condensed into single people; and then they're all fitted inside a single bloody room. Interference is big, but Alien Bodies is like watching tectonic plates shifting on a tabletop. Bigger on the inside all right.
When this book first appeared, we were bothered about something called "continuity" - remember that? This concern remained for some time afterwards, so much so that we called what Lawrence did "continuity-busting". Ugh. Continuity's a mean word, a nit-picking exercise and not worthy of consideration. Alien Bodies, and its future-Gallifrey, was doing something far braver; it was creating a universe. Continuity implies joining up to other things, but in fact it wasn't until Interference that any attempt was made to do so; Alien Bodies was, and is, very much a stand-alone work. Effortlessly, it laid a vast, dazzling tapestry before our eyes.
So Lawrence Miles creates a universe. What's that universe like?
In short, it's sad and beautiful. It's cracked and broken, ragged and dirty, dusty and silent, seedy and polluted, lonely and forsaken. The Time Lords are re-created as endlessly paranoid, with Homunculette a twisted parody of the Doctor himself. There's the Celestis, playing games for amusement, ideas without bodies giving themselves a sense of false grandeur. The Faction are the initial bogey-men of the book, but we soon find out the dreary futility of their monastic existence. And various locations from the series are revisited and given more weight, such as London after the Dalek invasion, and of course Dronid, a shell of a world. Even nice cosy UNIT are rebranded and twisted into something dark. Somehow, though, this place of pettiness, war and decay has a strange beauty. The passage with the Black Man listening to Ella Fitzgerald in the deserted Houses of Parliament has an eerie, haunting quality that stayed with me for some time. At the time, there was something dangerous about this; it seemed to require that everyone else live in this world too, and in the go-anywhere world of Who fiction it all seemed a bit over-enveloping. The cliffhanger endings, with so much waiting to be resolved, smacked of arrogance somehow; Lawrence Miles seemed to be appropriating Doctor Who continuity for himself, demanding that all the other authors play to his rules. Good as it was, I remember that the book made me uneasy at the time, and when we see the way that the Interference arc collapsed under its own weight perhaps I was right.
And now? Well, the parallels with The Deadly Assassin remain. While The Deadly Assassin is the original and definitive text on the Time Lords, it also stands alone as a story in its own right. Alien Bodies does a similar thing, acting as the foundation for all books up until The Ancestor Cell, but is actually more satisfying when viewed as a stand-alone work.
It's a shame that too many banal things happen, yanking it back down the same plane as the rest of the EDA's. Everything Sam does, cannabis cigarettes, chess-matches with generals and the mock-doc footage of the Toy Store; these are small-scale cheap thrills, nowhere near the storytelling scale of the stunning prologue and finale on Quiescia. They're amusements, but dammit we could do without them, and they seem oddly undisciplined in a hugely disciplined work. There are times, in retrospect, where one sees signs of a writer who hadn't yet reached his full maturity, and it's a shame.
Alien Bodies has a lot of rough edges, most notably Kathleen and Sam's journey to the Relic, which is the sort of ooh-let's-give-the-people-some-action Doctor Who staple that seems small and out of place; in fact, I tend to skip these passages. I would happily cut a quarter of Alien Bodies out, mostly the quarter that's trying to please readers who Just Want A Story. Miles himself seems to be trying to make a point about this at the end, when he says that people like the Doctor need people like Bregman to witness their actions and give them meaning. Maybe the whole Sam-gets-attacked-by-baby-Sams is there to give other events a sense of scale. If that was the point, though, I don't quite buy it I'm afraid, and it smacks of Lawrence amending with one hand what he writes with the other. He neglects that there is someone there to hear the tree falling in the forest, and that someone is the reader; his argument is a false justification for one of Lawrence Miles' perpetual problems, that his stories don't need "Doctor Who companions", and often he doesn't know what to do with them.
So, taking into accounts these faults, is it The Best Doctor Who Book Ever? Um, well, I don't really think these phrases mean much; you can't really compare Alien Bodies to Human Nature or The Left-Handed Hummingbird, as they're trying to do different things. Suffice it to say it's one of the best Doctor Who books ever - and it's also Lawrence Miles' best work (Dead Romance excepted, as I haven't read it). Yes, Interference is more polished, and Henrietta Street is more mature, but Alien Bodies has a level of invention that transcends its faults and makes it great.
So; if you've not read it yet, slap yourself hard, then go and buy it. And if you have it read it - well, read it again. It's a book that deserves it.
A Review by Finn Clark 14/4/03
When Alien Bodies came out in 1997, it was seized upon by desperate readers as the saviour of the already-moribund BBC Books. Leaving aside its objective worth, in historical terms it's the single most important Doctor Who book ever. However there has since been a backlash, with perplexed readers wondering what all the fuss was about or even saying that they can't enjoy it because of Interference. (No, I'm not kidding.) Reread in 2003, what's it really like?
To be honest, it's a bit of a disappointment... but only because one's expecting the moon and all of heaven's stars. Many post-Lawrence books were accused of having big ideas and no story; Alien Bodies demonstrates that these people were only following in Mad Larry's footsteps. In many ways it comes across as merely a dry run for Interference (which kicks its arse to Dronid and back, incidentally), but it's still perhaps Lawrence's most human book.
I'll start with the ideas, since they're the most important thing about it. These are awesome. Faction Paradox are fascinating, the Krotons are a hoot (and truly impressive) and the Celestis bear absolutely no resemblance to their poor relations of the same name in Taking of Planet 5. Let's not forget that three years of 8DAs were spun out of this book, so one could hardly blame Lawrence if his ideas now seemed over-familiar... but they don't. Not by a long chalk. Everything we see here wildly outclasses the later versions in non-Miles 8DAs, to the point of being nearly unrecognisable.
Then there are the characters. Homunculette, Marie and Qixotl are merely good, but Trask and Mr Shift have more stage presence than just about anyone, ever. By the time you've taken in all the Mad Larry throwaways, one-liners, surreal concepts, gonzo anti-science and extraordinary revelations about 21st-century Earth history, you might just start to get an inkling about why we all went so wild for this novel in 1997.
Unfortunately its structure is dreadful.
You see, everyone's come to the East Indies ReVit Zone to bid in an auction. (The revelation of what they're bidding for is in itself one of Doctor Who's greatest "what the fuck??" moments.) No one has a plan for evil. They're just there for the loot. Which means that since we're two-thirds of the way through by the time the auction happens, Larry's characters all spend the first 200-odd pages basically just waiting. Okay, Lawrence throws in some anecdotal mini-chapters to explain how the Relic got here, but the core plot ain't moving. Some reviewers have accused the Doctor of not doing very much in Alien Bodies, but no one does very much! The plot won't let them. They can only mooch around the ziggurat and squabble.
Even when things eventually get moving, they ain't perfect. Moving to Mictlan for what's effectively the climax is a debatable decision. Three years of BBC book developments (1998-2000) have made it feel more solid and important, but I remember back in 1997 then it felt like the book was buggering off to fairyland. More not-real things. Oh dear. The Krotons are fantastic, one of the best things in the book, but their eventual defeat feels more like the conclusion of a subplot than anything we should actually get worried about. And the Doctor doesn't really win at the end; everyone just sort of goes home. (Well, the ones who aren't dead, disintegrated, torn apart or mentally shattered, that is.)
The regulars are good. Sam Jones is largely ignored (a good thing), but is perfectly acceptable and fun to read about (a surprising thing) and of course gets some biodata revelations. You know, Dark Sam.
Meanwhile the Doctor is great. This is the best Doctor portrayal of any Lawrence Miles novel, in large part because the whole book revolves around him and his myth. He's fun. He's unpredictable. He's definitely the hero (he gets more to do than anyone) and the theme of death hits home for him in surprising ways. The 3rd Doctor and Sarah prologue is far more gentle and compassionate than one might expect from this author, but when the narrative comes full circle with the last pages (also on Quiescia) it's rather moving. After 300-odd pages about the Doctor as an elemental force of nature, a terrifying colossus astride the universe, everything comes back down and becomes personal. I'm impressed.
It suffers if you're comparing it with Interference. It isn't a patch on that later novel, but also many of its ideas ended up being either extended, refined or simply stolen. The Eye-Spy Book of Alien Monsters is funny, but it's basically the same joke as Interference's Kalekani. However that's hardly a fair criticism.
Alien Bodies isn't the alpha, the omega and the epitome of everything Whoish. It's a bit dodgy structurally, in large part because it's powered by supercharged ideas rather than plot. However it's a lively read and always good for a laugh. In some ways it's almost tame, but its central concept means that it will always be one of the great iconic tales of Doctor Who. Overrated, but given its dazzling reputation that's not saying much - and you can't overrate its imagination.
A Review by Donald McCarthy 19/12/04
Alien Bodies is the best EDA I've read so far and it's probably even the best Doctor Who book I've read, too. After reading The Burning and onwards I decided to go back and read the Faction/War arc for the first time. I guess I was slightly apprehensive as the arc's ending has gotten a pretty bad rap.
Nevertheless Alien Bodies was fabulous. The Doctor is on form as he usually is in a Lawrence Miles book(even when he's put to the side like in Christmas on a Rational Planet) and I found Sam to be an interesting character as well. The supporting cast is what makes the book, however. We've had books where the Doc was great but the supporting cast "bleh" and we've had books with a great supporting cast but an off Doctor. This gets both right, though. My personal favorite was Trask and Cousin Justine who are both quite creepy.
The plot has to be one of the best ones written in the Doctor Who range, the ending is especially good as is the little bit with the 3rd Doctor in the prologue and the epilogue. Lawrence ties it all up in a way that only he could.
This book is difficult to review without spoilers but let me assure you that this is one of those books that will change the Whoniverse.
The only bad thing that I can think of is that it dragged slightly at the beginning (but not enough to make me want to put it down). Nevertheless it was a cracking read.
Why Alien Bodies is overated... by Joe Ford 11/4/05
I feel cheated. Not by Lawrence Miles. Or Stephen Cole. Or even Alien Bodies. No I blame fandom and its ability to hype a story to the status of Godhood and leaving the poor book in question no chance to live up to this reputation. Alien Bodies is an above-average Doctor Who book for sure, it has some good scenes but it also lacks in several departments and I wouldn't place it in my top forty EDAs, let alone the top ten. If this disappointment I am feeling is anything like how Mike Morris felt when I hyped up The Algebra of Ice and Rob Matthews felt when I was kind of nice about SynthespiansTM then I apologise...
Setting a book in one location with only a few characters is a great idea in theory but when the book stretches to three hundred pages and nothing at all happens for the first two hundred you have to question the ability of the author. Lawrence Miles can write great, sprawling plots (Interference, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) but chooses instead to inject his book with an imagination of ideas and explore them in some depth and once he has done that there are very few pages left to fit in any kind of plot. The first time I got excited by a plot development was on page 216, that's when the book stops being about a group of aliens hanging about in a ziggurat and starts to evolve into something else.
It's not even as if the ideas are especially ground-breaking but that Lawrence Miles actually does something interesting with some of the worst concepts to spring from the Whoniverse. If the Time Lords hadn't been so shabbily re-invented time after time for the past two decades would people really be getting so excited about a voodoo cult? The name Faction Paradox inspires the imagination but nothing particularly engaging is done with them in this book, a blood ritual and talk about previous conflict with the Time Lords. Yaaaawn. Let's see them use some of their powers, pervert the timelines and screw up people's lives... not just stand around and look menacing. It comes to something when the Faction's Story segment is more interesting than their involvement in the main storyline.
Ooh there's a big war between the Time Lords and an unknown enemy coming up... give me a break guys. Does anybody really want to see an all-out battle with those camp collared dullards? Some hints are made to suggest that the Time Lords of this future conflict are amoral and vicious but I remain unconvinced, Homonculette seems just as bland as anyone we have already met from Gallifrey. Wars happen all the time in Doctor Who, I cannot imagine why this one got people so excited especially when we are treated like moronic children, expected to buy into the anonymity of the villains. The Enemy... ooh scary. Sounds like something from a Terrance Dicks junior edition book. The Time Lords' image has been damaged beyond repair since The Three Doctors (despite a momentary bright spot during The Deadly Assassin) and no matter how grand you make them or how thrilling you make their conflict they will still be silly old politicians with delusions of grandeur. When you imagine that this book led to The Ancestor Cell it almost makes you sob, the climax of this fantastic battle is a monumental disappointment and has consumed the range so much Justin Richards sees to it that the whole sorry storyline is erased from existence so he can start writing Doctor Who books again. Maybe we should call the Stephen Cole era TIME LORD WAR rather than Doctor Who? The only really original idea is Marie, the sentient TARDIS with the appearance of an attractive female but she is written out of the action quickly to prevent any exploration of her.
Dark Sam, now there is an idea I would love to see explored a bit more but the book drops it in our laps and then forgets about it. And is ignored for an age. But once again I have to point out if Sam had been conceived with an ounce of imagination or interest would I really be getting excited by a pro homo, drugged up, bedsit bound loser? Sam was a mistake, all companions need some sort of hook to make them work (Compassion is a TARDIS! Fitz is a womaniser! Anji wants to go home!) but she was dropped in the Doctor's lap, an average, squeaky clean nobody. How incredibly boring. Miles does us all a favour by suggesting foul play is afoot and that Sam was delivered to the Doctor in her veggie, PC, "look at which campaign I'm rallying against with my formal wear" self by some unknown powers (it is suggested that it was the Doctor who did this unconsciously but the suggestion is skipped over. Besides I refuse to believe that the Doctor, inventor of some of the most ingenious schemes to escape from deadly peril time and again could ever create something as vile as Sam Jones). Unfortunately the answer to this intriguing question is also dealt with unsatisfactorily in an equally frustrating novel (Unnatural History) but points for Miles for trying to do something fun with the obscenely zero dimensional Samantha Jones (my eyes start bleeding when I read that name... the imagination that must have gone into it!).
Surely there must be a more appealing way of dealing with these ideas than just bringing these people together and talking about it. The whole book feels like a trailer for a really good movie...
"See Doctor Who face his own death! With an auction taking place in the East Indies between the super powers of the universe only a prize as valuable as the Doctor's body could lure them here... Time Lords at War with an unknown Enemy! The CIA aiding both sides! A voodoo cult playing about with Time! Sam Jones facing her true self!"...it all sounds wonderfully exciting but as Andrew Mcaffrey points out nothing is done with these potentially gripping ideas. A shame.
The "so and so's story? segments are a welcome change of location and relief from the crawling narrative of the main plot. I especially enjoyed Homunculette and Marie's adventures on war-torn Earth, Miles' ability to capture an alien scene with gruesome detail once again in evidence. The Kroton section was equally good and gave some rare depth into these comical creatures. The idea of writing a story and stopping occasionally to explain how each of the characters in the main plot got where they were is fascinating and works very well, giving all of them believable motivations for wanting the Relic. Although I wasn't fooled for a moment, it seems obvious about halfway through the book that those characters who have yet to enjoy a few minutes in the limelight were being set up for twists that could not be revealed early on. Therefore Homonculette and Justine are exactly what they seem but Trask and Shift are not...
The characters verge from the sinister (Justine was marvellously creepy, staying serenely calm for so much of the book and only letting out her anger occasionally) to the annoying (Manjule was childishly written with far too many thoughts of sex, violence and self satisfaction), to the underdeveloped (Kortez is introduced well as the resident schizo but we rarely return to him or learn much about his experiences in UNISYC), to the breathtakingly imaginative (Shift was the most impressive, in some of the best sequences in the book he alters peoples perceptions so they see him as crossword clues, insignia and newspaper headlines).
Miles' fantastic prose style is what saves the book. This man knows how to write; indeed he makes it look piss-easy even when he is fighting himself by forgetting to include a plot. The story is full of expertly written scenes, the author switching between his very different characters with ease and managing to make each scene thoughtful, amusing and creative. Some of his jokes are laugh out loud brilliant (the Krotons making a sudden appearance, the Doctor's reaction to Qixotl's offer of forty percent, E-Kolbot's mad revolving head, Qixotl's reaction to each of the bidders' offers...) and for a book that revolves around death and the aftermath there is an enjoyable vein of comedy that runs through, keeping things charming enough. There is some gruesome imagery too that passed my ick test (it had me squirming) and gives you an idea of how sick Miles' writing can be (the mincemeat foetuses and Marie's shock suicide in particular) and something to look forward to next time.
Aside from Vampire Science this is really the first time the eighth Doctor has been given a thorough inspection and the results are that this floppy, cuddlesome incarnation is much more attention-grabbing than any of us thought he might be. Thanks to some nice comparisons to his previous self we realise just how reckless he is now, jumping in and saving lives no matter the cost. The chats the Doctor has with his corpse reveal as much to the Doctor as they do to us... does he need a companion to experience his travels? Is he a person or just a built-in feature of existence? Fascinating stuff but nothing can compare to the revelation in the last scene... as the Doctor buries his own body on a lost, lonely planet and realises he never thought it would end so... quietly. I also enjoyed how the other characters viewed the Doctor (Homonculette sees him as a curly haired alien with a gormless expression!) as young and weak and how he runs rings around them at the climax.
There is some really juicy stuff here but it is ground in with all the crap. Personally I prefer other "intimate" stories; Anachrophobia has a better plot and The Sleep of Reason has better characters and they both pull of the lack of scale better than Alien Bodies. I enjoyed Interference with its massive, attention-grabbing plot and I adored the detail and arc developments of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street... Alien Bodies is like the bastard child of these two (now there's a paradox for you, considering this came first!) and is weaker than both.
A Review by Brian May 29/7/05
Ye gods and little Krotons!
How do you start reviewing a book like Alien Bodies?
It's incredibly overwhelming - no, engulfing is the word. It has "pivotal Eighth Doctor Adventure" and "important continuity benchmark" stamped all over it. It's aware of its greatness, sometimes portentously so. It is the Timewyrm: Revelation or the Love and War of the EDA series; what happens here will affect the future big time, what with the concepts it introduces.
Whilst reading it, I was definitely thinking "Wow!"
But a "wow" with reservations.
It's not perfect. At times it's very slow. For all its revelations and semi-revelations, not much happens. The majority of the action takes place in the one location, which consists of a few rooms, corridors, and limited exteriors. There's a small cast, who spend the novel waiting round for an auction that never seems to happen. And at the end, it doesn't. And while this allows the scope for greater character development (which I'll get to later), for much of the time we're patiently waiting for things to occur. And when they do, they're quite unengaging. The whole sequence in which Sam and Kathleen are attacked by the whatever-it-is as they investigate the Relic is dull; indeed, Sam's long separation from the Doctor is quite padded. The Doctor's opening moments playing chess with General Tchike are incredibly superfluous - true, they set the scene for some interesting notions, mainly all that contained in UNISYC's Story, which reveals more of the Doctor's role in Earth's history and affairs, from the Earth's point of view (cf. Transit). But why does the Doctor visit the General in the first place, especially as he knows he wants him dead? Of course this is just to set up that ludicrous escape out the window - and the computer simulations viewed by Sam are just as silly - but this whole moment is way too comic book for a Doctor Who novel. Or a Doctor Who comic, for that matter.
But at the end of the day these are minor complaints. The rest of Alien Bodies is quite amazing. So much information is foisted upon the reader: the introduction of the Faction Paradox, a truly warped but interesting creation; the concept of a sentient TARDIS; the evolution of the Celestial Intervention Agency into the Celestis. Then there's the war the Time Lords of the Doctor's future find themselves involved in, the details of which are tantalisingly minimal, telling the reader to "wait and see". And of course, the fact that the Relic, the item everyone is after, is the corpse of the Doctor himself. The implications for future continuity are big. It's reflected best when Homunculette yells "Get him out of here! It's too early for him to know what's been going on." (p.215). It gives the reader (and the Doctor) the very sense of anticipation Miles is aiming for. Wait and see...
There's plenty of the other kind of continuity in Alien Bodies - references to Doctor Who's past. They range from the very humorous (Marie being stuck in the form of a 1960s British policewoman brings a smirk to the face, while the "truth" about the Raston robot is hilarious!), the barely tolerable (the Dalek Invasion of Earth backdrop for Homunculette's Story, the inclusion of the planet Dronid) and the out-and-out gratuitous (a mish-mash of Who quotes on p.129). However you also have some very interesting ones: the appearance of the third Doctor in the prologue, which thankfully is nothing like the dreadful use of him in John Peel's Timewyrm: Genesys, and is hauntingly bookended by the actions of the eighth Doctor at the end. The idea of the two Sams is fascinating; the Sam we know shouldn't really exist, and only does so because of the Doctor's actions. (But above all, Miles should be congratulated for making something good out of The Eight Doctors!)
But he's a very cluey writer; even the most self-indulgent of the continuity references have a strong tongue-in-cheek feel to them, and he gleefully subverts reader expectations - when we all think the Daleks are arriving (in a book that immediately follows the woeful War of the Daleks), we get the Krotons instead. In one of the best winks to the reader I've seen, their appearance cliffhangers a chapter titled "Surprised?" Like Paul Cornell in No Future, and more successfully in my opinion, Miles revives one of the more redundant Who monsters. It's also reminiscent of the Sontarans in The Two Doctors; they're brought back, bugger all is done with them and they're dispensed with at a convenient point. But at least Miles delves into the Kroton race a bit, and a lot of it is actually quite interesting.
Characterisations are great. The Doctor is brilliant, especially his apprehension of the future and the powerlessness he feels. Miles makes good use of Sam, making her more of a recognisable character than most previous portrayals of her - and thank goodness she's no longer pining after the Doctor! Quixotl is superbly weaselly and slimy, Homunculette is wonderfully paranoid and inept. All the characters are well drawn - Miles can even give a dead man personality! The Shift is a delight; not only is he a fascinatingly conceived entity, he's also interesting as an individual. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of action allows for all these characters to be developed further, as do the chapter-long backstories, and there are some terrific scenes and cracking exchanges of dialogue. There's a good injection of humour, plus some genuinely creepy moments - the Doctor's hall-of-the-dead hallucination is quite unsettling, as is Cousin Sanjira's fate; the showdown inside the Celestie's domain is psychedelically freakish (especially the appearance of the black man who, presumably, is the same man who appeared to Homunculette in London earlier in the book). All the scenes inside the Faction Paradox's shrine - a wonderfully ghastly parody of a TARDIS - have an ominous, dank and evil feel. There's even a nod to Roswell and its contemporaneous television inspiration, The X-Files, with all the goings on at the Phoenix Sandbowl.
Alien Bodies is certainly a pivotal story; it sets the scene for big things in the future with selectively and sparingly imparted information. As I said, at times it wears its importance on its sleeve, but apart from a few unnecessary and padded scenes, it's an excellent read. 8.5/10
A Review by Steve White 23/4/13
I don't know much about the Eighth Doctor's story arc as a whole; companion names and the odd story here and there are the limits of my knowledge. I do know however know that Alien Bodies kicks off an important storyline integral to the early novels involving Faction Paradox and Dark Sam, and was excited to see the beginning of this. Also it is the first novel by Lawrence Miles that I have read. I first heard of him after he posted a rant about The Unquiet Dead on his blog and then found his "final" interview rant and comments about other authors. I also found out that most of his input to the range was subsequently removed shortly after the Interference novels. (The Ancestor Cell). I'm not going to comment on his behaviour; at the end of the day he is a Doctor Who fan like the rest of us and his opinions are as valid as ours. Maybe he should have kept quiet given his role, but it's all in the past now. Either way, I was excited to see his ideas as I've heard they were phenomenal.
What first struck me about Alien Bodies is the sheer size of the book. Usually the books are 280ish pages with fairly large writing. This clocks in at around 310 pages with tiny writing. I'll be honest and say that this is both exciting and daunting at the same time. Was it large because the story was that good it needed the extra space? Or was it due to unnecessary side stories that bear little to no significance to the main plot? A few pages in and it became clear that the space was needed due to the story being so good.
I was also worried that in a book this size there would be lots of story threads weaving together, a writing tactic which I find confusing and that I do not like. However, 30 pages in and there are only really 2 threads going on: a set up of an auction and the Doctor being targeted by UNISYC, both of which soon come together, and the remainder of the book is just one long story. What really makes Alien Bodies great though is that the story is split up by chapters about the main cast. Whereas interludes in a story usually bear little to no relevance to the main plot, Lawrence Miles use these to flesh out the characters, and to show how they became involved in the auction. The result is a novel which flows well and remains interesting throughout.
Alien Bodies basically tells the story of an auction for the "relic". The relic turns out to be the body of the Doctor who isn't the current one as its bio data is far more valuable. Obviously the Doctor finds out, is annoyed, and sets off to stop his body being sold whilst dealing with the various bidders and their schemes to obtain the relic. What I like about the premise is that the Doctor shouldn't even be there at all. It breaks some laws of time being in his other self's (although dead) timeline. It also give Lawrence Miles a chance to explore future Time Lords, technologies and wars, making the novel feel like the start of something massive.
As previously mentioned, the book flows naturally, one bit leads to another seamlessly and there is no lull in the middle, which was a welcome surprise. By the end of the book, you want to read more, even though you have just read 310 pages of tiny writing. It really is that captivating.
Throughout the novel, it is clear that Lawrence Miles has an incredibly vivid and original imagination. There is no denying his writing ability, and his understanding of Doctor Who, but at first read some of his ideas do seem really out there. For example TARDIS's which look and act human, and security systems which take on the forms of real animals with their urine serving as data storage. Whilst I started off not really enjoying them, they grew on me, and even started to make sense as the novel wore on. Miles really has put a lot of thought into future technology.
Characterwise, the Doctor is portrayed exceedingly well; there is no doubt it is the 8th Doctor. He isn't as childlike as he could be, but given the pretty dark story that is understandable. Previous 8th Doctor novels never really captured the turbulence of the Doctor (with the exception of Vampire Science), so it is good to see an author get him right. Miles has also managed to make Sam interesting: she isn't annoying at all in this novel and in fact just comes across as stock assistant in places. However, the introduction of her having two sets of bio data and the possibility of her life being altered so she meets the Doctor is intriguing as it asks a whole lot of questions we don't get answers too at this point.
The supporting cast are also very well done. Miles has obviously thought long and hard about each character and their backstory and as a result everyone is interesting. Qioxtl is the loveable rogue in charge of the auction, essentially it's Sabalom Glitz, and it's even hinted at strongly in the novel thanks to the Shift's ideas. Homunculette and Marie are a future Time Lord/TARDIS who are bidding on the relic on behalf of the Time Lords and it is interesting to see just how the Time Lords have progressed, technology-wise. Trask is a dead body bidding on behalf of Time Lords called the Celestis who have forsaken a physical form to become entities in conceptual space. The Shift is an idea, like the Celestis, who has no body and speaks by getting into people's heads and changing their perception of things. He works for the Enemy, an unnamed race whom the Time Lords are due to war with. Then there are the two humans from UNISYC, Kortez and Bregman. Kortez is very spiritual and Bregman is the new girl. Out of all the characters, the UNISYC people are the most forgettable as they are so normal. They are still very well written though. The Daleks were meant to come to the auction too, but their ship was intercepted by the Krotons; it was very interesting to read a bit about their backstory, and to see them in action again. The final bidders are Faction Paradox, who are a voodoo time-travelling cult who use stolen Time Lord technology to do voodoo with bio data. These are Miles's own creation and have their own "spin off" series of books. Essentially, they thrive on chaos caused by the energy of paradoxes.
As I've said, each character set get their own little chapter explaining their backstory and subsequent interest in the relic. It is quite simply fantastic storytelling, makes all the characters seem more real and gives them a sense of purpose so you understand exactly where they are coming from.
It is also worth mentioning that, despite the dark tones of the novel, Lawrence Miles manages to inject humour throughout, usually at the expense of fan gripes. For example, Sam is continually referred to as a generic companion, echoing comments said by fans at the time. The Doctor jokes he is "half idiot on his mother's side", making fun of the "half human" line from the TV movie. There are other references spread throughout the book, making it fun to spot them for the hardcore fan.
So, in summary, Lawrence Miles has written a very long, but very interesting and thought-provoking novel that sets the later novels up nicely. Alien Bodies actually moves the show forward, as opposed to being a one-off story with no future implications. It isn't light reading, however; it deals with fairly complicated themes and will ask far more questions than it gives you answers to, but it is very enjoyable and I'd highly recommend it to 8th Doctor fans. 9/10
Days Of Future Past by Matthew Kresal 15/10/15
Looking back at that gap between televised Doctor Who that listed 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 issue of Doctor Who Magazine coming out every month 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 this 1997 novel from Lawrence Miles, a book 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 who's 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 backstory 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 as well. There's the way for example that Miles reinvents one of the most maligned monsters of the old series 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 of the novel 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 novel 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 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 be 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 book that we're unlikely to ever see Doctor Who produce again. So if you can find it and can afford it once you have, get it.