Eater of Wasps
|ISBN||0 563 53832 5|
|Synopsis: The Doctor and his friends discover a rival group of time travellers prowling around in the English countryside in the 1930s.|
A Review by Finn Clark 26/6/01
This review contains no spoilers and is safe even for servants and impressionable young persons to read.
I've been extremely rude about Trevor Baxendale's books in the past, with good reason. Stock characters ran around in wind-up-and-go plots to give an impression of studio sets and last-minute scripting. Gareth Roberts and Mark Gatiss have written books along similar lines, but they did it with wit and self-aware irony. The Janus Conjunction and Coldheart, on the other hand, weren't being ultra-trad and formulaic as a species of post-modern joke. They played it straight. They meant it.
However there's always been a redeeming feature of a Baxendale book - the setting. The Janus Conjunction was set in a grossly contrived solar system underpinned by some painfully bad science, but hey, at least Baxendale tried. Coldheart gave us a well-realised Dune-like planet with a nifty underworld and a solidly convincing alien culture. Now Eater of Wasps has taken the next logical step. It's set in a English village in the 1930s.
This was a great idea! Doctor Who's alien planets were always a bit rubbish and even the novels still struggle to evoke anything more than a quarry, some cardboard sets and three useless British actors. An English village, however, we can imagine. It's real. We can see it in our mind's eye. We imagine BBC period dramas and automatically the imagined quality threshold goes up. The imagination's usual hurdles aren't there and the setting can draw us in from the first page. Eater of Wasps has interfering old maids, eccentric squires and an ineffective village vicar. Okay, so even here the clicheometer is clicking along briskly... but at least it's cosily comfortable. It's the literary equivalent of grandad's old slippers.
The plot is... okay. The characters are... okay. The Doctor annoyed me, but at least he gets plenty to do. It's fun. I can't recall much of what happened now I've actually finished the book, but I know it kept me turning the pages. Wasps were involved, I remember that much. I've got a feeling Fitz was evoked quite well too, though I couldn't swear to it.
In summary, this book is a pleasant enough runaround. That about sums it up, really.
A Review by Peter H. Sneddon 8/7/01
There are many types of what are referred to as "typical" Dr Who stories. There's the Alien Invasion of Earth, the Overthrow of Evil Alien/Human Colony Rulers, the pseudo-historical, and then there is the Apocaplypse At Quaint Little English Village.
The Eater of Wasps definitely falls into this last category.
The year is 1933 and the Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive in Marpling where they are instantly accosted by Mad Old Bat (TM) before being befriended by the Local Eccentric (TM). Meanwhile something nasty brews at the local dentist's. (I'll let you guess what, though the title may give it away somewhat.) Throw into the mix a band of time-travelling commandos, some nasty deaths, the local police (who think the Doctor's responsible (TM)) and leave to settle for about 300 pages.
And what does all this result in? A rather good read, actually. As you may have gathered from the above, there are a lot of what might be considered stock Dr Who ingredients in The Eater of Wasps, but then again that is not necessarily a bad thing. When I decide to buy a book with "Dr Who" written on the front, I like to find that the story within is recognisable as such.
The characters vary in depth. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are good, Fitz coming across well in my opinion. He definitely works well with the Eighth Doctor. Anji doesn't do much, but that's often a problem with relatively new assistants. As for the Doctor, he is definitely ... different from his pre-Ancestor Cell days. He certainly doesn't wallow in self-pity and grief anymore - at one point even stating that the deaths that occur aren't his fault - he can't be responsible for everything. This attitude is refreshing, but also a little shocking.
And the Monster of the Week (TM) is good too - sometimes just serving as a means to stir up the action, but also managing to illicit some sympathy from the reader.
The residents of Marpling - of whom we meet about five - are pretty much your standard village stereotypes, but they fit in well here.
About the only thing that seemed out of place was the time-travelling commandos. Their presence in the story, aside from a bit of plot exposition, seems unnecessary, though their leader does make for a handy extra-assistant in the odd scene. Of course, a time-travelling band of commandos in a 1930's English village would be out of place, so maybe I'm just missing the point.
Overall, though, this book was very good. Definitely the best of Trevor Baxendale's three, and probably the best since Father Time.
(Horrible cover though.)
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 12/7/01
The first thing to note about this great book is the Doctor himself. Rarely have I read a book that captures the charm, the alien-ness and the fascination of the Doctor so well. He dominates throughout, with dozens of Doctorish moments. My personal favourite is the scene in the Mortuary when the Coroner says he doesn’t need an assistant, only to be told by the Doctor – “No Matter, I need one!”. Classic stuff. There are plenty such Doctorish moments that make this a joy to read.
There is an alien-ness about the Doctor too that is paramount throughout. Baxendale perfectly captures the 8th Doctor qualities of lying low for a while seemingly not concerned with anything – only to fly into action at a moments notice. His attitude to death is more akin to the 4th Doctor in Seeds of Doom, and what the 6th Doctor was striving for. The Doctor is wonderfully athletic in this book too – capturing the spirit of Pertwee as he rides around in a Bentley Car. There is a wonderful Train-top scene, where the Doctor’s love of adventure takes over. In short Baxendale gives us one of the best ever novels for the character of the Doctor.
The story’s setting is perfect. Marpling joins the ever-growing list of village locales in Doctor Who. As I have said before, the English Village is rich territory for Who, and this book re-inforces that opinion. The story itself is excellent. An unusual weapon, travellers from the future, wasps galore and the homely settings of Marpling combine well.
The characters that live in the village are traditional, but not lacking in interest. They have real lives and can be compared to people we know. The nosey neighbour Mrs Havers, with her bike. The eccentric Pink brothers at the Manor House (how easy the Doctor got in with them!). The monster of the piece is the stuff out of nightmares. As he evolves throughout the book Baxendale glories in the transformation. The business with the wasps makes things very uncomfortable. There are some genuinely frightening scenes. The Wasps and their targets are a menace that is huge, and worthy of the Doctor’s heroics.
The only weak link in the book is the Companions. Fitz is largely redundant, wandering round the village with little to do. Anji has a bit more to do, but spends a great deal of time worrying over the Doctor’s lack of concern – even though lives are saved left, right and centre! Not the best treatment of Companions, but at least that gives the Doctor greater focus.
Lots of people have talked about the disappointment seeing an Earth book so soon after the Stuck on Earth arc. If the books are as good as this though, I don’t think there will be that many complaints. The book is supremely well-written throughout, always interesting. Baxendale has joined Richards, Gatiss and Dicks in that DW Fiction File named – The Best Authors of Traditional Dr Who Tales! 9/10
A Review by Mike Morris 31/7/01
In my review of Coldheart I made the suggestion that Trevor Baxendale could improve as a writer, but first he'd have to leave behind his adherence to the traditional Doctor Who story. With Eater of Wasps he's gone and proved me mostly wrong; he has certainly improved as a writer, and he's done so by producing as traditional a Doctor Who format as is humanly possible. Eater of Wasps is chock-full of settings and characters that fell straight out of Devil's End and took in most of Barry Letts' Big Book of Stereotypes on the way down, but by marrying this setting with a thoroughly terrifying (if unoriginal) monster it really works. Imagine if David Cronenberg wasn't quite so gruesome and had been force-fed Target novelizations when he was younger, and you're getting there. Imagine Seth Brundle with yellow-and-black stripes and a sting, and you're closer again. Add a dash of your favourite nasty insect scenes, like that bit from Candyman, and by George I think you've got it. "Original" Eighth Doctor adventure? Don't be daft.
The result, though, is the most successful and satisfying "trad" adventure I can remember reading since, oh, The English Way of Death (and in its own way, that wasn't really trad at all, more pastiche). For all is formulaic nature and overly wordy passages Eater of Wasps is really very memorable, and it's so comfortable and recognisable a format that I won't be surprised if this is the most popular EDA by a mile come the end of the year.
EarthWorld was about silly stuff. Vanishing Point was about deep stuff. Eater of Wasps is about, er, wasps. They're bad. They sting. I've already made reference to The Fly, a film which really brought home just how disgusting and horrible flies really are. Wasps are nowhere near as disgusting, but they sting. They come in swarms, which makes them doubly nasty. In the first chapter we're presented with a swarm of wasps, and instantly fear kicked in for me. Then they turn mean. They start trying to kill people. They start flying into people's mouths. They can break through glass. They're intelligent. There's millions of them. And then you add the concept of someone actually being taken over by wasps and, presto, I'm a gibbering wreck.
With that concept it would be a bit difficult for this book not to be sort of good. Thankfully the supporting elements are strong enough to push it to its limits. The setting of 'sleepy English village' is so well-trodden in Who that it's hard to get wrong, but Baxendale (who showed a good flare for visual imagery in Coldheart) does this very well indeed. Churches, bicycles, squires, rows of honeysuckle, bright sunny days and big gardens, and you have to ask yourself why the heck not? It's oddly refreshing to read about this sort of setting without the Doctor making some sort of witty self-referential comment, and when things start going nasty it's genuinely shocking.
The other good thing about Coldheart was its portrayal of the Doctor, and this one's just as good. Whereas Vanishing Point gave us a rather brutal Doctor, in Eater of Wasps he's just... unfeeling. Again, I'm getting the idea that part of the brief was to do the Sixth Doctor idea again and do it right. This is the Doctor Colin Baker was always going on about, who'd cry over the death of a butterfly whilst stepping over six corpses. But add to that some established Eighth Doctor qualities (the energy, the slightly sarcastic outbursts, that sneaky side) and this is a Doctor that I just don't quite trust. Added to that tension is the new dynamic with the companions; Anji doesn't trust the Doctor, while Fitz does, but I think that Fitz is going to be let down sooner or later... and that should be worth seeing.
Anji and Fitz's traits are overstated here, particularly Fitz. In Coldheart, Fitz was Becoming Like The Doctor. Here, he's The Doctor's Old Friend. But the asides are nice, the dialogue's energetic, and Anji is really coming together as a companion now. As for the supporting characters, well, they're largely cannon-fodder-by-numbers with little twists added; the question of Liam's parentage works well, as does Hilary Pink's nicely understated alcoholism. The other villagers are stock but well-used, particularly Miss Havers, and the time-travelling hit squad are good. Fatboy is a nice touch.
But, as I've said, the wasps are the real stars. Their threat is well paced, the revelations are well-spaced out, and every now and then I really gave a shudder. Eater of Wasps doesn't go for the disgusting with the same venom as, say, Rags, but it's possibly because of this that it works; the scenes described are real Doctor Who scenes, just a little edgier. Of all stories about a human changing form, only Keeler's transformation into a Krynoid in The Seeds of Doom is really comparable.
Eater of Wasps is a book which doesn't want to be anything more than a bloody scary double-length Target novelization, and that suits me just fine. The Caught on Earth arc has rather killed off the tedious trad/rad debate, and books like this might well improve in quality as a result. Eater of Wasps is perfectly paced, (largely) well written, a polished piece of body-horror told with well-used Who conventions that is important by virtue of its, um, inconsequentiality and unpretentiousness. Forget the Celestis, forget Faction Paradox; this pisses all over The Taking of Planet 5. There is still room for the old-fashioned Doctor Who story, provided it's done well, and by golly this certainly is. Impressive.
DISCLAIMER: Mike Morris fell in a wasp's nest when he was ten and received a dozen stings. He also saw The Fly at an impressionably young age and had nightmares for months. He accepts no responsibility for the possibility that Eater of Wasps isn't scary at all, just taps into some subjective childhood traumas that have haunted him to this day and are possibly a factor behind his disturbing obsessive-compulsive personality. He's off to redecorate his room with flypaper and Jeyes Fluid now.
Yummy by Robert Thomas 2/8/01
Well this is my first dip into a book by Trevor Baxendale, but I thought I'd try a new author for a change. After reviews of his last books I expected to be disapointed but the cover drew me like a bee to honey.
He gives us a picturesqe English village, an artefact and a squad from the future - Nice!
Anyone who reads this book will struggle to be disapointed, this book does everything right. The characters are right, the story flows well, the story is paced well, simplish plot and the regulars are good. Plus there are the wasps.
The scenes with the wasps might scare the more sqeamish amougst us but are powerfully good. Not a book to be read with food. As a side note the regulars are on fine form. The Doctor is becoming absolutely dangerous and Anji is becoming more rounded and isn't the "office girl" anymore. Fitz however doesn't have much to do but has developed into a very fun character.
To sum up if you feel like a dip into the EDA's you could do a lot worse. In fact, I wish you could watch it rather than read it!
Five out of Five by Jamas Enright 19/9/01
After last month's effort by Stephen Cole anything would be an improvement. What we get is moving from that extreme to the other with Eater of Wasps by my all-time favourite Eighth Doctor author Trevor Baxendale. From the wonderfully lurid cover, this book starts great and gets better.
It's another quiet English country-side village which is torn apart by an alien device. Only this time it's not truly alien, but a weapon from the future. Even this concept makes a refreshing change from the alien invasions leaving parts behind that the Earth has suffered over the years (c/f. last month's The Shadow In The Glass).
Usually by the second or third novel an author starts throwing in continuity references left, right and centre, but Trevor Baxendale keeps things fresh. There is very little from the range's past that gets referred to here, the biggest being a letter from a character in Casualties of War. By the way, if you liked that book, you'll love this one.
I don't read the back covers of books to keep as innocent as possible as to what's inside, so when I first came across Jode, I thought 'wouldn't it be a neat concept if we had soldiers or other people from the future come back to deal with a menace,' and indeed this is what we have. And it is a great idea. I might have to use it myself some time.
I have to admit that I didn't find any of the characters truly endearing, in that I didn't really care if they died or not, but all of them were wonderfully realised, even such day players as Tom Carlton, who is seen as something of a prat, but is still three-dimensional as any human is. In fact, my favourite character wasn't a resident of Marpling, but Kala, leader of the team from the future. Torn between duty and wanting to believe the Doctor, she was portrayed in a way that had me accepting all her decisions, even going in the face of the Doctor's charms. Speaking of the Doctor's charms, I also give a thumbs up to Miss Havers for remaining against the Doctor, even after being hugged by him.
The Doctor remains as inhuman as ever, indifferent about death one moment, passionate the next, and then off to buy a bag of sweets in the middle of crisis. Anji and Fitz remain themselves, and it's nice to see the companions getting more to do than just ask mindless questions, Anji more so than Fitz, although Fitz does get sidelined a little to give Anji room. It must be said that not everything about this book is perfect. I found some inconsistencies in who the wasps were able to take over, and in who the Doctor was willing to let die and who he wanted to save, which seemed dictated more by the needs of the plot than any inherent characterisation of the Doctor.
This is a definite must have book, a thoroughly enjoyable roller-coaster of the ride that kept surprises coming on right to the end. To anyone who doubts Trevor Baxendale's abilities as an author, I give you Eater of Wasps.
Interesting cover by Dave Roy 6/10/01
I have not been a fan of Baxendale's previous works. The Janus Conjunction was rather dull and Coldheart was just plain bad.
Eater of Wasps, however, was very good. I do not like wasps, and thus this book really creeped me out. Baxendale's descriptions of wasp attacks were well done. Every time he did it, I had to suppress a shudder. The supporting characters, while cliched, were interesting personalities. There were a couple of surprises in them, as well. There are secrets amongst the populace: some of them obvious, but one that is very well hidden until near the end.
The regulars are well characterized also. The growing distrust between Anji and the Doctor should lead to an interesting conclusion sometime further along in the series. Anji's still new at all this, and the Doctor is not acting like the Doctor we all know. He's erratic (more so than usual), sometimes violent (which is very unusual) and sometimes very dismissive of humans (who are his favourite species). For Fitz, this is just something to endure while hoping he can help snap the Doctor out of it. For Anji, this is all she knows, and she doesn't like it. She can't understand Fitz's apparent blind trust in the Doctor. Sometimes, he doesn't appear to be deserving of it. Sometimes, even, Fitz isn't too sure of it, but he knows that he's the only one who will give the Doctor that trust, so he carries on.
This is a book that should satisfy both traditional fans, and fans of "New Who" that want a little more from their Who books. It's a traditional story that's set in a radical setting.
I hope Trevor can keep this up for his next book.
Baxendale playing to his strengths by Robert Smith? 29/10/01
Something very strange is going on in the EDA line at the moment. Since the Earth arc crashed and burned with its final book, we've had a first novel from Jac Rayner, the latest Steve Cole opus and now book number three from the pseudonym that brought you Coldheart and The Janus Conjunction. This line-up didn't exactly inspire confidence at the outset. But Earthworld brought humour to the EDAs for the first time since, well, ever and Justin Richards must be doing something right if he could wring a decent novel out of Steve Cole. Thus far our new editor has shown that his only significant weakness lies with the trad books, so his biggest challenge arrives in the form of Trevor Traditional.
Eater of Wasps is... good. It's quite good indeed. Eater is set in a sleepy English village, which is a stroke of brilliance on the author's behalf. Just as Coldheart had a the creaky studio sets and an entire alien race made up of three character actors positively screaming from the page, Eater of Wasps has the BBC costume drama faithfully recreating the village green of the 1930s village in loving detail. I'm not quite sure which of Gareth Roberts' drugs Trevor Baxendale is taking, but something seems to be working. Returning to earth so soon after the recent arc has the potential to be a little old hat, but it's true that the Doctor is trying to get Anji home and we didn't land somewhere we already saw, so this just about sqeaks by.
The wasps are a great menace, especially when there aren't any aliens in this book. They come with actual creepiness and Hinchcliffe horror, but for once it's brought to the page effectively, probably because most of us have a fair idea about how wasps behave, so our imaginations help the book immeasurably. And the cover is gleefully disturbing (and I especially like the lone wasp on the spine).
The time team from the future is a great asset, neatly eclipsing elements of Enterprise. It provides a nice contrast to the villagers of Marpling and ensures that things don't get stale. There are also some decent plot twists that actually surprised me. I like that in a novel.
The Doctor is a little off-centre, but this is deliberate. At times I thought it went a bit too far, especially "Kill him!" but I appreciate the effort to remind us that the Doctor isn't the safe character we often think of. Interestingly, this new Doctor is more alien for having spent a hundred years living with humans. I think there's a surprising amount of mileage there.
In short, Eater of Wasps is the third successful EDA in a row, which must be some sort of record. It plays to the trad strengths of Baxendale and gives us something wallowing in DW cliches, but which still seems fresh. There's a sense of newness about this team and I like the stand-alone stories we're getting for the moment after too many arc-heavy books. Good stuff.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 24/12/01
To be honest, I had not received much enjoyment from either of Trevor Baxendale's previous efforts. Coldheart was an overly simplistic tale that, while being faintly enjoyable, was stretched far too thin for its page count. The Janus Conjunction was almost painful for me to read - bad science, a horrible plot, and shallow characterizations. Those two stories played far too safe for my liking. While I don't expect every book to be groundbreaking in every conceivable department, I quickly become bored with those stories that seem content never to be anything more than just simple rehashes of Doctor Who serials from decades ago. That said, however, Eater Of Wasps manages to be entertaining by taking several stock Doctor Who elements and weaving a new story around them.
The plot flows along fairly nicely here. There are some interesting twists that pop up and manage to raise some genuine surprise in the reader. But the greatest advantage that this story has over Baxendale's previous two is that he has finally managed to do the horror aspect correctly. The previous two stories attempted to frighten by describing numerous scenes of pure disgusting material: flesh dissolving, skin falling off and mucus, mucus, mucus as far as the eye can see. These elements were all far more gross than frightening, but the importance is that weren't really memorable; they didn't stick in the reader's mind for more than a page. However, in Eater Of Wasps, Baxendale got it right. Tiny bugs and insects aren't terribly frightening by themselves, but the various descriptions of wasps are legitimately unsettling and are quite good at crawling under the reader's skin (no pun intended). While the fear factor doesn't completely manage to sustain itself throughout the entire book, the sections at the beginning and middle are excellent. However, at some point you just become immune to the wasp eater sequences, creepy though they may be.
The prose is workmanlike. There are no real fancy turns of phrase here, and there is very little that you'll be quoting to your friends (provided you're a secure enough person who would ordinarily go around quoting from Doctor Who). This makes the book quite readable, though there are a few spots here and there where the reader may wish that Baxendale was slightly better at turning out a sentence. Character motivations are often spelt out in painstaking detail, making the book seem far less polished than it could have been.
The companions, Fitz and Anji, are given almost nothing important to do here other than to carry objects around from place to place. The secondary characters are the ones who receive most of the attention, and they do come across quite well. While most of them don't escape from the stereotypes that we expect from a Doctor Who story set in a 1930s sleepy English village (nosy old lady; dithering, uncertain old priest; no-nonsense police officer; etc.), there are occasionally moments scattered here and there where they do come alive, if only for a brief paragraph.
Overall, this is an enjoyable tale. It's not the best thing ever written in the line, but it makes for an entertaining read on a quiet weekend afternoon. The story is solid, (for the most part) fast-moving, and straightforward without being overly simplistic. Trevor Baxendale's novels have been steadily improving since his dubious debut. If his next novel continues this trend, then it should definitely be a wonderful book.
Buzzzzz... by Joe Ford 25/10/02
I live on the top level of a three storey flat block. For some unexplicable reason we have had a serious wasp problem this summer. They have been everywhere and I mean EVERYWHERE. If you dare to open your window during the day it will only be minutes before several are crawling your windows and flying around the room. I think I should also point out that I am extremely allergic to wasp and bee stings and one such sting almost killed me when I was eight.
I hate the buggers. And that could be a strong reason why Eater of Wasps affects me so much. They are just everywhere in the book and Trevor Baxendale capatilises on them to maximum scare-effect.
Eater of Wasps was in fact one of the first EDA's I read. And boy was I hooked. Having already read Earthworld (which I enjoyed immensely) and Vanishing Point (extremely well written) I suddenly realised one of the joys of the EDA's. The diversity. Take Eater of Wasps and Earthworld, they couldn't be much more different in tone. I got the strong sense of wonder that I did with the TV series, each story would be vastly different and the TARDIS could end up anywhere.
Eater of Wasps (brr... that title!) returns the series to it's roots of the sleepy English village that it has always capatilised on so well. There is something very atmospheric about the setting, the rural little village with it's church and local gossip and village green, its such a gentle setting for a Doctor Who book it makes the horror so much more powerful. There are lots of lovely little touches that remind us how different things were back then ("A new-clear bomb", Miss Havers thinks the Doctor and co are gypsies!) and it once again proves what an asset a historical setting can be.
Trevor Baxendale surprises here, not in the fact that he's written a good novel (although he needed to after the fairly dismal Coldheart) but the fact that he takes a relatively simple concept (Wasps turned evil) and makes something so exciting and frightening out of it. The first two thirds are just brilliant, lots of nice character stuff worked around the horrifying emergence of the killer wasps but even better is the last third with the rivetting train top fight and the countdown to Fatboy's explosion. It really does keep you hanging until the end. It is a simple novel with simple characters but that services the novel well, without a ton of angst and character depth to get in the way Baxendale is left to churn out a solid, well written tale that genuinely thrills. To his credit this is one of only a handful of novels I would love to see brought to the screen.
The number of memorable set pieces is amazing. It all starts brilliantly where Rigby investigates the shed (eugh... the wasps are covering the window and then it cracks.... ewwww!) and continues on that high through as the Doctor and Fitz's exploration of Rigby's house at night (the moment where Fitz picks Rigby out of the dark with his torch always gets me!) and the harrowing autopsy scene where the wasps come flying out of Hilary's guts (oh yuck!). The aforementioned train scene is probably the best part of the whole book, our dashing Doctor struggling to fight a half man-half wasp atop a steam train being a most memorable image indeed. The book is full of such scenes, too many to list them all but Baxendale has an excellent grasp on the characters and their reactions to all these grotesque developments seem very belivable in the circumstances.
How can I write a review of a current EDA without mentioning the marvellous Anji? Of course she's fab, making her dry comments as usual. She's a little sidelined until the middle but then her adventures on the train and with Rigby more than make up for that. It's her reaction to the Doctor that's worth noting here, she thinks his priorities are all wrong and doesn't trust him (all exposed wonderfully in a scene where he is devasted that a few wasps have been crushed but doesn't show any remorse at the several corpses that have already been discovered). The very last scene in the book is superb, a fine example of why they are my favourite book Doc-companion pair. It is all set up for The Year of Intelligent Tigers where the strain on their relationship is taken even further.
One thing Trevor Baxendale always gets right is The Doctor. He's on top throughout this novel. I love the moments where you think he is doing something hugely important which turn out to be insignificant delights (think mint humbugs and brewed tea!). He takes risks with peoples lives (the scene where he urges somebody to kill Hilary is shocking and his baiting Rigby to kill spew wasps at Liam is similarly tense) and uses violence possibly more than is nessecary (knocking out Kala). And yet he takes utter delight in other things (he wants to drive a tractor!).It's another example of the magic of the character, when he's written well he re-captures all the joy and wonder of the series.
His other characters are okay. I love Miss Havers and her busybody ways... l know several people like this of course, so it is doubly funny. Fordyke is well done as is Liam, I don't mind sulky teens but only when they're done well. All the stuff about who is his dad adds a lot of shades to the story. Liam's realtionship with Rigby is not only sweet but pivotal. Only Jode really rubbed me up the wrong way, I agree with Fitz about bullies and I only wished he could have been disposed of a bit earlier!
But the main stars are the wasps. As soon as a swarm appears my skin crawls. And all this talk of them crawling over people's skin, vommiting out mouths, flying out of guts and even a man transforming slowly into one... well it certainly leaves you disgusted if not petrified. Horror books are two a penny these days but its only so often one will REALLY get to me (Anachrophobia is another good example). It takes a lot of skill to write abook that really sticks in your head and crawls under your skin. Eater of Wasps is one such example.
It's early in Justin Richards' reign but already the range was shaping up very nicely. I do love the more complex, have-to-concentrate books that we have got recently but it does us good to remember solid, simple, compelling works such as this can work just as well.
Eater of Wasps is a positive triumph, the writing is polished and the story is strong. I love it.
A Review by Brett Walther 12/1/04
Having grown rather annoyed with the tendency for back cover blurbs of most of the BBC Doctor Who books to reveal practically everything but the conclusion, I made the conscious effort to avoid the back cover blurb for Eater of Wasps. I jumped into this novel without any expectations or preconceptions, and ended up completely thrilled.
As I found myself remarking when reviewing Trevor Baxendale's The Janus Conjunction, this book encapsulates everything that I love about Doctor Who.
One of the prerequisites for great Who is a strong TARDIS crew, and Baxendale offers one of the best in the team of Anji, Fitz and the Eighth Doctor. I use the word "team" because they are to all intents and purposes a cohesive trio that bounce off each other wonderfully. I can't think of another combination of travellers in Who that I would rather hitch a ride with, in fact. Fitz's faith in the Doctor is absolutely beautiful, displaying a depth of male friendship that is extremely rare, having moved beyond hero-worship and into a Doctor-companion bond that is unique in the series. With his admirable sense of duty in looking after the Doctor, Fitz has a motivation that makes his journeys with the Doctor so much more believable and real than any of his predecessors.
Likewise, I can't recall another instance in which Anji has been written for as strongly apart from Jacqueline Rayner's Earthworld. She and Fitz bring out the best in each other, and the chemistry between the two is highly refreshing. I love the bit in which Anji is darkening Fitz's face with burnt cork in order that he can skulk about incognito, and only later does Fitz find out she's given him a handlebar moustache and wicked eyebrows!
The characterization of the Doctor, however, is the piece de resistance. This is a multifaceted Time Lord, rather than one that plasters on an inane grin in the face of adversity. The Doctor frequently comments on how others must perceive him throughout the novel, and he's come to the conclusion that he must appear quite mad. There's a lovely bit in which, after analyzing a wasp after a disastrous and rather grisly autopsy, everything stops so that he can grab a bag of mint humbugs from the local store. Forget the half-human bit: this Doctor is as alien as he ever was. He's simply electric in Eater of Wasps, and this book succeeded in making me hungry for more Eighth Doctor novels; which is not something I'm accustomed to feeling.
For the first third of the book, in fact, the Doctor is remarkably grim. As I noticed in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, this is a Doctor with a questionable conscience. Unlike Mad Dogs, which used the Doctor's lack of conscience as a cheap joke, Eater of Wasps uses it to re-state the Doctor's alien nature. When police show up after the grisly death of one of the guest characters, the Doctor sees their presence as an annoyance and his immediate reaction is to scarper. It's only Anji's insistence that the Doctor stay to explain the man's death to the authorities -- they "owe" it to the deceased -- that prevents him from running the other way. Anji's role as the Doctor's conscience is especially poignant considering the Doctor has just ordered his companions to mercy-kill the man as he is attacked by wasps. This Doctor needs his human companions to serve as his moral compass, which in a way is quite frightening in itself, and complements the horrific themes of the book.
The chills in Eater of Wasps start out early and never let up. The wasps' initial attack on Rigby in the first few pages is the stuff of nightmares. These wasps aren't content to sting their prey; rather they want to get INSIDE... In fact, the cover itself was enough to make me feel a bit queasy. Baxendale is very wise not to identify the exact origin of the alien weapon that sets the plot in motion. The nature of the weapon and the weapon's retrieval team from the far future are kept a mystery, and frankly, things are better that way. The story is more concerned with the impact of the artefact on the small English community of Marpling in 1933. Bringing in any additional elements from outside that frame would be simply spoiling this tightly constructed theatre that Baxendale has constructed.
Complementing the plot are Baxendale's short, snappy chapters that make the book a quick and highly enjoyable read. It's easy to ignore the fact that the second half of the book is basically just a frantic chase after the "monster on a rampage", because it's written so well and paced so brilliantly.
I could've kicked myself for not picking up on the significance of Fatboy's name, though!