Heart of TARDIS
|ISBN#||0 563 55596 3|
|Continuity||Between Tomb of the Cybermen and
The Abominable Snowmen
The Stones of Blood and
The Androids of Tara
|Synopsis: The second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria become suspects in a case of inexpressibly horrible murders. The fourth Doctor and Romana have been summoned by the Gallifreyan High Council to deal with an unimaginably terrible force that has been released onto the space/time continuum.|
A Review by Finn Clark 14/6/00
I wasn't going to read this book next. I'd planned to continue with The Banquo Legacy for that Justin Richards double-whammy, but in the end the lure of Dave Stone was too great. All those lovely words, wrapped up in a simply gorgeous cover. So I gave in and read it.
And I'm here to tell you that I haven't had so much fun reading a Doctor Who book in years. I've stoically endured the 8DAs and even managed to enjoy many PDAs, but Heart of TARDIS was just irresistible fun. I laughed out loud repeatedly. For possibly the first time ever I wished the book were longer instead of inwardly groaning at the number of as yet unread pages. I'm a rabid Dave Stone fan, yes, but I also think this is his best Doctor Who book yet.
For most of its length, Heart of TARDIS appears to be a fragmented collection of unrelated plot threads and random Stonesque observations. As a story it's confusing and unclear... until you learn what's going on and it all falls into place. More or less. I'm still not sure about the details, but for a while I didn't expect an overarching plot at all. Imagine my surprised delight when one turned up - and it's a doozy. Apocalyptic and extremely silly. What more did we expect?
The second Doctor's subplot is the more self-contained of the two and benefits considerably from this. Weird things are happening in the American town of Lychburg and it's glorious fun to watch the Season Five regulars bring their bumbling anarchy to the show. This subplot is simple and straightforward. Of course what's going on is funny, bizarre and quite mind-bogglingly nasty, all at once. I particularly appreciated the latter. Dave Stone's silliness has a brutal streak of which I approve. I admire Terry Pratchett hugely, but I sometimes wish he'd be a bit more of a bastard to leaven the fluffy-bunniness. With Stone, you're never quite sure if the wisecracking fluffy bunnies aren't carrying machine-guns.
The fourth Doctor's subplot is far more complicated, with deceptions and layers of untruth to be unpeeled. It's harder for the reader to follow, but it's also where Dave Stone lets rip with all his trademark tangents, jokes, observations and peculiar ideas. It's a seething stew of fun, but underneath it's also a perfectly well-constructed story with villains, old friends and everything. Just put your trust in the author and let it all wash over you. It'll come together in the end.
Looking back on it, what's most impressive about Heart of TARDIS is the ease with which it pulls a clever and delightful novel from such unpromising ingredients. The fourth Doctor, the second Doctor, Jamie, Victoria, Romana, the Gallifreyan High Council and more... from many authors, this would be a recipe for disaster. But here, no. Fanwank is conspicuously absent. Too many Doctor Who novels have been worthless exercises in nostalgia, but Dave Stone writes books that deserve to survive independently of the line he's writing for.
(The same could be said of Lawrence Miles. Going off on a tangent myself, I'd like to quote from Stephen King's Danse Macabre, p363. Discussing the hostile reception of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, he writes: "Writers in the fantasy and science fiction genres moan about the critical coverage they get from mainstream critics - sometimes with justification, sometimes without - but the fact is that most critics inside the genre are intellectual dorks. The genre magazines have a long and ignoble history of roasting novels which are too large from the genre from which they've come; Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land took a similar pasting.")
However I can't ignore the Whoish elements of Heart of TARDIS: the regulars.
The second Doctor is famously difficult to nail to the page, having been portrayed well in a couple of short stories and badly in several novels. Authors either overdo it ("look at me, I'm writing Troughton!") and turn him into a cartoon, or more often haven't the skill to achieve even that. The second Doctor here is superb. He's brought to life and given all of Troughton's mannerisms without ever letting them overwhelm the living, breathing character. I was particularly looking forward to this aspect of the book as Dave Stone's take on the Doctor is something special. His takes on the sixth and seventh Doctors for Virgin were so distinctive that one doubted if he could turn his hand to other incarnations, but the second Doctor here is a fantastic blend of the Stonesque alien and Troughton's television portrayal. For me, this was a highlight of the book.
On the other hand, the fourth Doctor fares less well. Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise. He's a dangerous character in novels. Tom Baker was simply a genius, taking his performance beyond the boundaries of sanity and leaving authors nowhere else to go when trying to characterise his Doctor. No matter how far you go, Tom Baker would have cheerfully gone a great deal further. Thus the fourth Doctor on the page isn't so much a character as a demonic possession, taking over the author's wit and intelligence for his own purposes. Some are up to the task, like Gareth Roberts and Simon Messingham. Others fail so badly it's embarrassing, like John Peel in Evolution. Here Dave Stone's authorial voice can be heard loud and clear in the fourth Doctor's dialogue, giving us a character that's sometimes hilarious but rarely reminiscent of Tom Baker. Ah well. At least it's entertaining.
Romana is as alien as the Doctor, a Time Lord who barely knows the first thing about Earth and its people. It's an interesting approach, defining her as much by what she doesn't know as by what she does.
But most eye-opening of all for me were Jamie and Victoria, of which I'd had few expectations. I like them on television, but that's largely due to the actors involved. The recipe for success of Jamie McCrimmon was 99% Frazer Hines and 1% help from the script. On the page, they're generally colourless stereotypes without the slightest shred of historical verisimilitude.
But here, they're solidly from their historical periods. These aren't quite the versions we saw on TV, but I think it's where the novels should go with them. A cute smile and nice breasts won't sustain 80,000 words of prose. I think Heart of TARDIS has shown the way with these companions, just as Jim Mortimore redefined Leela forever in Eye of Heaven. Most importantly, it works. Jamie is interesting, but Victoria is a scream. Dave Stone can evoke the nineteenth century in his sleep and here goes to town with it, describing modern America through a prudish Victorian's eyes in a manner that's killingly funny.
Basically I thought Heart of TARDIS was brilliant. I could have lived without the appendix, a watered-down rip-off of Dave Stone's Perfect Timing 2 story, but that's my only complaint. Splendiferous.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 14/6/00
Dave Stone is a wonderful author, and I have always loved his books, but at times the stylistic tone has always seemed a little like the guy in the party who falls on top of you and asks if you want to see his elephant impression. So when I heard about Heart of TARDIS, a book with two Doctors, three companions, and the fate of a Universe in mortal peril... well, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
This book is definitely a Dave Stone book. It's wacky. It's hilarious. Parts will have you giggling like a 6-year-old. And yet it's also his most mature book, fitting in wonderfully within the old past Doc canon. This is a book that Second and Fourth Doctor fans will enjoy, as well as those of us who simply must read anything with Dave's name on it.
PLOT: Wow! There are two completely and totally dissimilar plots here that dovetail wonderfully in the end. I admit to being more taken with the conspiracy/UNIT one, but Lychburg was well-realized, and the creepiest parts of the book were there. The last 50 pages of the book are total page-turners.
SECOND DOCTOR: Not entirely perfect (kicking against the pricks?!?!), but prolly one of the better Troughton Docs we've seen on the printed page. He has some wonderful 2nd Doc moments, such as explaining how he rented the car, and in the comic book store. Nice job considering how insanely difficult he is to write.
FOURTH DOCTOR: Probably works best when he's being flip and Tom Baker-ish... his later anger doesn't come off as well. Still, this is the sort of part I can see Tom accepting for a BF audio, and that's a good thing.
JAMIE: Has the least to do, but what he does do is in character. Love his dealing with the woprat.
VICTORIA: Whee! Possibly the best part of the book, Victoria is exquisitely in character, gets a great deal of the narrative, and manages to do a lot more than scream. I would LOVE to read more of this Victoria's world views and general life outlook in general. Read the book just for this.
ROMANA: Another nice job, this Romana is cold, aloof, smug, does lots of cool Time Lady things without batting an eye... it's wonderful. Why humanize Romana when she isn't? Especially Mary Tamm's Romana. Romana also has the benefit of getting a lot of the best lines.
OTHERS: The UNIT crew are present, but really only serve a minor function, even the Brig. Delbane is far more interesting (gee, another -ane name in a Stone book...), and there's hope that we may see more of her (have we already? My memory is hopelessly confused...). Oh, and Slater and McCrae were wonderful. Being American, I kept picturing them as Starsky and Hutch...
VILLAINS: That'd be Crowley and his collection of conspirators. Works much better as a suave villain than as a menacing evil being, but fulfills a nice function. The villain category isn't really as necessary in the book as the stupidness they cause is.
STYLE: As I said above, it's a mature Dave Stone at work here. The humor is wonderful, yet manages to work with a Who plot that's mostly normal and can be imagined in the context of TV or radio. My second favorite thing about the book after Victoria.
OVERALL: OK, the appendix was rather superfluous. But other than that, Heart of TARDIS was both a hoot and an exciting, jam-packed Who story. Fun is to be had here, you have been given notice.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 4/8/00
Unusually for a Dave Stone novel, this is one that I found very readable and enjoyable. And just for a change, in a multi-Doctor story, they don`t meet.
PLOT: Complicated, especially The Fourth Doctor's, although it runs almost side by side with The Second's. One investigates murders in America (which could`ve been anywhere, in all honesty), whilst the other tries to deal with a devastating force loose in the Space/Time continuum.
THE DOCTORS: The Fourth is more successful, as Stone captures Tom Baker`s flippant, yet angry and often very deep Doctor wonderfully. The Second fares less well; the dialogue is spot on, the mannerisms don`t seem quite right.
COMPANIONS: Jamie doesn`t do a lot, but is well written.Victoria is one highlight as we are privy to her thoughts as she adjusts to travelling in the TARDIS. Romana is almost bitchy in places, getting some great lines, playing both roles of Ice Queen and Time Lord to great effect.
OTHERS: UNIT are featured, although the Brigadier`s role is less than pivotal. Delbane is more interesting, but underdeveloped.
VILLAIN: Barely noticeable, because the only real villain is the consequences of people's actions.
OVERALL: Highly enjoyable. The first Dave Stone novel that really feels like Doctor Who. Add to this great characters and an interesting plot and you have a great book. 8/10.
A Review by Rob Matthews 24/8/00
This is the first original Doctor Who novel to be read by me since the universe began, so you'll have to forgive me for having no real frame of reference.
What I can say is that I'm also currently reading Conan Doyle, Poppy Brite and Salman Rushdie, and that Heart of Tardis was, for three days, always the first thing I headed for on my bookshelf. Okay, maybe that just means I'm a big kid, but the book is nothing if not engrossing. It was everything I hoped for when I saw that lovely illustration of my two favourite Doctors on the cover, but suspected I wouldn't get. Funny, frivolous, serious, complex; "joking through clenched teeth" indeed. I'm also relieved to find that it is actually Doctor Who as a book, and not just an attempted recreation of the TV series.
I knew I'd enjoy it from the moment I read the author's Preamble and page of quotes. Things like that are always a good sign of an exuberant imagination. However, there was also a vague warning that Pat Troughton's character may not have been captured quite correctly. As it turned out, that was true. He came across as rather too much of an innocent for my liking. Jamie, a favourite companion of mine, felt a bit superfluous too. He came in handy in the end, but he's probably only in the book because he had to be there, because that was the TARDIS lineup at the time. None of the Troughton/Hines rapport was even hinted at in the novel.
But as it turned out, that didn't matter. Victoria and Romana no.1 took centre stage companion-wise, and they were both characterised superbly. I'm not going by their television counterparts, mind you, because they're amongst the companions I've seen the least of. But as far as this book is concerned, they're great. I love Victoria's prudish but potentially spunky attitude, but Romana's the real showstealer, a kind of Gallifreyan Katharine Hepburn. I absolutely beatifically adore her attitude to twentieth century Earth ("All those extermination camps") and the way she avoids getting beaten up by a hideous misogynist through sharp wit and remarkable Gallifreyan reflexes. And I was delighted when Stone conceded that we wouldn't be fooled for a moment by Romana's apparent willingness to help Crowley, throwing in a hilarious OTT "Oh Romana how could you betray me like this" performance from the Doctor.
The scene with the Doctor, Romana and Crowley around the Nexus point in the Tardis is another high point. Ordinarily it would be a brave and confident move on the part of an author to entirely undermine the seriousness of his own story at such an important point in the plot. Stone makes it seem piss easy to do just that and entirely get away with it. Then he even has the cheek to have the Dr and Romana go off and fight a fifteen-year battle in another dimension between one paragraph and the next. At the end he even does something I saw in a Simpsons episode - "I won't bother you with the details of how I pulled off that miraculous escape" - and gets away with that too. You know, the way Timelash wanted to.
Speaking of The Simpsons, I'm surprised that none of the reviewers have noted the blatant lifting of all the Lychburg characters from that show (the [medical] Doctor, the police chief, the comic book store guy) - something which I assume was entirely intentional, if only because it's made crystal-clear with the "Hi Dr Rick!" part. I'm not sure why this was done, though I had a chuckle at the comic book guy discussing something 'Mr Enigma'.
The TARDIS, surely one of the most interesting 'characters' in the Doctor Who mythos, is afforded titular status, and the book doesn't disappoint (well, maybe a little). There are some intriguing comments about the ship's various failsafes, and it's interesting to see the messy results of prototype experiments.
The revelation about Delbane, meanwhile, has serious philosophical implications. But it's hard to pick them apart from the comedy in a book written with such style. If I might ponder for a moment - tragedy and comedy are the same thing. Both involve the worst case scenario coming true. I imagine that people without a sense of humour that tends towards the dark end of the spectrum might find this novel obtuse. And to tell the truth, I thought the Apppendix was unnecessary and overly bitter. But not the book as a whole. I doubt I could have had a better introduction to Who fiction. And the way Stone just avoids having the two Doctors meet is just so damn tasteful.
Next, I think I'll pick up a copy of Divided Lotalties. Or maybe a John Peel novel.
I'm not usually one for re-reading books, even my favourites. I just don't seem capable of it. Whenever I try, I just get bored and find myself wanting to read something new.
However I've made an exception for Heart of TARDIS. When I originally came to this book about three years ago it was the first piece of original full-length Doctor Who fiction that I'd read, and - my basis for comparison still being the television series - I was so pleased to find that the books were not written for children or as worthless exercises in nostalgia that my expectations for the novels were immediately exceeded, and I simply thought it was great. Even then, of course, I didn't imagine that what I was reading could possibly be a 'typical' Doctor Who novel but, inasmuch as it had a distinctive personality, it certainly seemed a good one.
Since then, though, I've read a lot more Who fiction, gotten used to its uniformly high quality, and come to expect more of any given book. Sure, there are still Doctor Who novels out there that are written either for children or as worthless exercises in nostalgia, but they're exceptions to the rule and I don't begrudge Terrance Dicks a living, hoho. Point is, I now have a more objective context in which to look at Heart of TARDIS again, and having read Joe Ford's vitriolic review of the book ('literate muck'?!), I was intrigued to see if I would even like it this time round.
Well, a few things stood out on this reading. I'm better acquainted with Dave Stone's work now, and I noticed that emphasised to the hilt here was his recurring motif - it's an almost an obsession in his books - of attempting to communicate Alienness with a capital A; otherness, difference. Honestly, just about every other page here seems to include some passage about how A was so extremely outside of the worldview of B that he hadn't even considered the possibility of the existence of A for long enough to dismiss it, or how C was so unalike D on a basic level that even trying to establish a basis of comparison would be as doomed an enterprise as trying to get a Jamaican bilge rat to mate with a tricycle. Or some such. Just like with those Vortex thingies in The (Interminably) Slow Empire, or the whole 'bad-joke-as-mind's-defence-mechanism' idea of Sky Pirates!. Stone seems always to be positing scenarios of utter, utter irreconcilability.
Being more aware of that helped me notice more acutely the tack he'd taken with the companion characters in this novel - Jamie, Victoria and Romana are all fish out of water on twentieth century Earth, no matter what the bizarre permutation of it - hence the former pair can't really tell what's wrong with Lychburg because they couldn't comprehend what a right Lychburg would be like anyway, and Romana has a dismissive attitude to our planet because she probably heard of it briefly in a Gallifreyan classroom decades before and thought it sounded quite, quite ghastly. There are numerous little fish-out-of-water sketches throughout the book to illustrate this sense of Alienness or complete incompatibility - Victoria's visit to a Gap outlet (with what appears to be Eminem playing in the background) being an oft-cited one - and it should be pointed out that Stone has totally reinvented these characters in keeping with his theme.
The other highly noticeable thing in this book is of course Dave's continual use of pastiched 50s US sci-fi and pulp, as well as more up-to-date pop Americana like The Simpsons and Cheers. This preoccupation is a very difficult one to figure out, but I'm assuming there's more to all this than simple homage to the short story from which the author developed the book. I suppose it could be argued that it's the 'lowbrow' cultural artefacts which best demonstrate the actual mode of thought of the culture from which they arise. Gravity's Rainbow, which I read recently at Terrence Keenan's recommendation, offers a startling demonstration of this with its use of superheroes and movie stars in its narrative. And in a way I guess the mindset (or the commonly perceived mindset anyway) of 50's US culture was one of a morbid, paranoid obsession with stamping out of difference of any sort, symptomatic of the panic about Communism. Or the Communist panic was symptomatic of that paranoia, it's perhaps a chicken and egg thing. I guess that factor, in some tortuous way, does link all the kitsch paraphernalia with Stone's Alienness obsession. Lychburg is the very definition of parochialism, a parody of smalltown USA that's unable to see outside of itself.
The town is of course made up of 2D reproductions of American 'types'. One of the first of these we see, a character called Norman Manley, inhabits a very four-color funny rendition of fifties teenager-hood, all drive-ins and woodies and jocks and cheerleaders. Stone may not have done this deliberately, it's probably just an association of mine, but I was reminded both by this character and others of the Norman Bates of Robert Bloch's 1959 cheap pulp thriller, taunted by his mother about his 'unmanliness'. Psycho the book has little of the artistic merit of the Hitchcock movie, yet it illustrates perfectly just how starkly cheapo pulp cack can lay bare the beliefs of the world it comes from. On reading that book I was struck by the incisive manner in which it revealed the smalltown US anxieties of that time (and perhaps of this one): Conformity is everything, difference is to be reviled and hidden at all costs. Hence Norman Bates's lack of 'gumption' and his secret impotence - and presumably the lingering fear that these may prove him homosexual - are every bit as shameful in that text as being an insane murderer. It's as if the degree to which he is 'different' doesn't matter.
In plot terms, this paranoiac theme fits in with the idea of a Thatcher-created government department whose remit is to root out 'subversion' or dissent in any form. Course, the DISTO(P)IA (?!) strand is discarded in typical Dave Stone fashion with a few amusing words ('Oh, it's easy to manipulate that rabid old trout'), but the attack on postwar/Cold War era US - and the lame duck status of the UK - is reinforced shortly afterwards with an effective uber-Stone passage (p.194-97) about the US's raid on Nazi leftovers.
Stone also riffs on 50's-paranoia with his sci-fi-movie-within-the-book about Earth spacemen coming across a planet of empowered amazonian woman where all the men are 'fairies' - women of course being feared beyond reason by, well, pretty much every society men have ever created. And this gets emphasised later in the story when the insanely misogynist Ernest Derricks turns up, believing all women are 'ungrateful bitches' who don't appreciate the efforts their men are making to protect them from Communism. His efforts to 'punish' Romana (hilariously frustrated by the lady herself), reminds me of some of the more unedifying stuff that Terrance Dicks has had happen to Ace and Peri in some of his own novels, and is possibly a skit on those scenes. (Terrance Dicks/Ernest Derricks? nah...)
Like Robert Smith?, I'm not sure what the point is of using Springfield as a template for Lychburg, unless Stone is noting that The Simpsons actually uses smallminded smalltown sterotyping too. More likely he's just using an easy reference point to demonstrate the cobbled-together-from-second-hand-ideas nature of his town. Is he taking the piss out of himself too, as an - I'm assuming - British writer trying to recreate an American town? It's tempting to believe that, because in fact all of the regular characters he uses here appear more like obtuse parody than recreation - 'Oh dear, this hasn't been much of a day for stopping the unstoppable forces of evil' isn't something that Troughton's Doctor would ever say; it's something that a Dave Stone character would say. And he writes Troughton like someone who's never seen his performance, but only been told about it ('Well, he's childlike and unpredictable'). Even the Fourth Doctor, who comes off better, has his share of Dave Stone-like lines that you can't imagine Tom Baker saying. The 'weasel cheese' comment comes to mind.
Yet. Dave has the sheer force of personality as a writer to get away with this stuff. As I say, the companion characters have been reinvented in keeping with the author's concerns, to the extent that making comparisons with the TV versions feels a bit prissy, neither here nor there. I still find Stone's Romana funny, for example, and don't much care that she's bog-all like Mary Tamm was on screen. She's an Alien from an infinitely rarefied environment - of course Earth looks bloody awful to her.
Incidentally, the idea that Joe finds this an accurate transcription of her on-screen character makes me wonder just what kind of dope he was smoking when he watched season 16!
My point, if indeed I have one, is that in some ways the book is as inaccurate and ludicrous a slapped-together pastiche of Doctor Who as Lychburg is an inaccurate slapped-together pastiche of a town. And I can't tell whether that's deliberate or not. I mean, good grief, even something as basic as the TARDIS console is wrongly described as 'octagonal'...
Anyway. This, against the odds, is entertaining. For a while.
Possibly on my first reading my attention was held by the belief that the two Doctors would eventually meet - even though in the end it seemed better that they didn't. This time, I already knew that wasn't going to happen, and my interest was more in seeing where the whole Golgotha plotline was going, since I couldn't quite remember from my first reading.
And no wonder. Because it goes precisely nowhere. Like Mr Enigma, it travels smugly up itself and vanishes.
No, this time the book almost visibly ran out of steam somewhere around the point where Romana pretended to show Crowley how to operate the TARDIS. The ensuing stuff with the 'demons' was disappointing in the extreme, the revelation about Delbane similiar to something Dave did in his superior Ship of Fools, and the appendix, my god the appendix ... ugh, it's just appalling, unreadable drivel.
The good ideas in Heart of TARDIS are held together by a claggy mix of gags and spontaneity. For much of its length it's thoroughly enjoyable, even though less than the sum of its parts. But by the end both the jokes and the ideas have ran dry and it's left running on empty for much too long. A real shame, because it does take some unique directions for Doctor Who, and for a while it feels like it's really going somewhere. With a conclusion that didn't feel so knackered and uninspired, this could have been a superior piece of work. Could have.
So, if I was drafting another list of my favourite Doctor Who stories, it would certainly still register, out of affection. But if I was drafting a list of the best Doctor Who stories... I doubt it.
Heart of Stone by Robert Smith? 26/8/00
At one point I honestly thought this was the best Doctor Who novel I'd read in ages. We've got Dave Stone back and that can only be to the readers' benefit. I'm an unashamed Stone fan: his recent Benny books were fantastic and everything he's written, aside from Oblivion, has been extremely amusing and entertaining.
And sure enough, for the first two thirds, Heart of TARDIS delivers. There are some incredibly amusing jokes and pretty good characterisation of the regulars. The story goes off on the usual Stone tangents, but Dave's learnt the hard way that these work only when they're actually entertaining.
The fourth Doctor and Romana come off really well. Dave doesn't apologise for his handling of the fourth Doctor in the introduction and you can understand why. He has a better handle on this difficult character than most and brings him to life in a way that actually sounds like Tom Baker interpreting a script. Romana is great. She's haughtier and more confident than Tomb of Valdemar, but that's fine. She's a more experienced character at this point and her attitudes ("All those extermination camps") are really well conveyed.
I have some complaints about the setting, however. Season sixteen is one of those places where I feel that PDA writers actually should pay some attention to the season in which they've set their books. Yes, the Doctor does attempt to go on holiday in The Androids of Tara, but the search for the key is barely acknowledged here. It's supposed to be a pressing quest with grave consequences for the entire universe, but both the Doctor and, more importantly, Romana don't seem at all bothered that they're swanning off doing other things. The frustrating thing is that this could have been so easily fixed. The unimaginably terrible force is exactly the sort of thing important enough to distract them from the quest (ala the pressing events in Tomb) - and I'd be happy even if this went unstated. However, even when they're not facing this terror, they're still incredibly relaxed about the whole quest. What's more, this sort of thing should be right up Dave's alley. He likes to examine things which affect the entirety of the universe (the big crunch gets another mention here, as it seems to in at least 50% of his books), so you'd think he'd have something interesting to offer on this subject. Alas, no.
That said, I absolutely loved the opening segment, with the Doctor rescuing K9. That's great stuff and very amusing indeed. The interaction between the Doctor and Romana is really good too, especially Romana's apparent betrayal and the Doctor's hamming it up.
On the matter of TV continuity, the UNIT stuff simply does not fit. UNIT is very clearly third Doctor continuity. Yes, the mention of Yates can be explained away, but Sergeant Benton is still a Sergeant (he was promoted to Mr Benton in Robot), but he knows the fourth Doctor (who thinks he's Corporal Benton). However, startlingly, this doesn't matter. I was tutting to my fanboy self about this early on, but the Doctor's realisation that things have fundamentally changed is marvellous. I'm a bit disappointed that Dave didn't go a bit further with this and actually kill off the Brigadier, as he hints. Then again, all this continuity mangling is already rather passe, so I suppose we're better off playing it subtly, as here.
Incidentally, the fourth Doctor spends very little time in a laboratory, so I think Vanessa Bishop must be on crack. Well, no news there.
All the infiltration stuff and the view of UNIT through Delbane's eyes is fabulous. Benton gets some great stuff early on, although the focus switches to the Brigadier later. This works quite well and succeeds in holding together the ending far better than it otherwise would. It's exactly the sort of thing The Taking of Planet 5 couldn't manage: if you're going to have a battle between beings far above our comprehension, then by goodness you have to give the battle some sort of human perspective. Dave knows this and he gives the Brigadier some deliciously clever things to do here.
The second Doctor segment succeeds with characterising Victoria, but that's about it. Jamie is okay, although not having much to do. His quietly backing out of the tavern when the inhabitants start mentioning brutally killing their families and friends is hilarious. He performs a crucial action at the end, but more by chance than anything else.
The second Doctor is... passable. Dave at least admits that he's had trouble characterising him and it's not the worst attempt that's ever been made with the second Doctor. However, it's still a shame that he doesn't get a better handle on the character, because the second and fourth Doctors would seem to be ideally suited to Dave's frantic style. I think the Doctor's a little too forced in places to ring true, but others have enjoyed the characterisation so it counts for something.
Victoria, however, is the real success of this novel. Almost everything is told from her Victorian point of view and it's fantastic. Her sensibilities and attitudes are really well portrayed and the language is just right. In the hands of a lesser author this would be an unmitigated disaster. The only bit I'm not sure about is Victoria classifying herself as "not a shrinking violet, even in terms of [her original time]". Huh? Victoria is the quintessential screamer. Mildly suspicious goldfish would set her off. Then again, since this is a preface to her screaming out those leatherlungs, I can forgive it.
Setting all this in Springfield just didn't work for me, though. The book isn't sure whether it wants to be subtle (although I guessed it as soon as the mention of "cops dreaming of doughnuts") or an outright getting-it-off-the-back-of-a-truck approach. Moe the Bartender is far too obvious and Dr Dibley's speech patterns are just a direct steal. The comic store guy says nothing that The Simpsons itself doesn't say. Mr Enigma is amusing, yes, but there's absolutely nothing new being said here.
Up until Crowley took over command of UNIT, I thought this was a fantastic book, perhaps earning the honourable distinction of being Dave's best. However, it's not and the ending falls even further than The Mary Sue Extrusion did.
There are some bits I like: the Brigadier's point of view of an alien battle too big for humans to contemplate, the fifteen year disappearance of the Doctor and Romana (a joke that was done better in Short Trips and Side Steps, but there you go) and the second Doctor assigning lines. I also greatly appreciate that the two Doctors didn't meet and that the fourth had the memories intact all along.
But it just didn't feel very interesting or exciting. The book wants to go all-out and be daring, but hasn't quite got the courage. It tries the Timelash trick twice - once with the fourth Doctor, which gets undermined later and works well - and then again at the end with the second Doctor. It takes an author of exceptional skill to pull this off, so it's a credit to Dave that he gets away with it in the beginning with the fourth Doctor. Sadly, the bit with the second Doctor doesn't work. It might have a chance if it were played for the joke it is, but at the last moment the book cops out and proceeds to (almost) tell us what happened, with a minor character describing the pyramid shape the TARDIS takes on. No, no, no. Either do the joke or do the explanation, but don't try to have a bit of both. This falls squarely between two stools and succeeds at neither.
The big battle between entities doesn't work either, of course, but it never could. Sadly it means that the whole ending is rather lacklustre from our point of view. Some of the Delbane stuff comes straight from a Buffy episode and the resolution is too pat.
And then there are the appendices. I have no problem with authors reusing their own stuff... except when it's as dumb as this. I'm told the appendix works on its own in Perfect Timing 2, but it's a miserable failure here. It's a classic Dave Stone "I'm going to write about something I find incredibly interesting and amusing, but I guarantee you won't; oh and it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the book either" trick and it fails utterly. These things aren't funny, they aren't even slightly amusing and they're of no relevance at all.
In summary, I wanted to like Heart of TARDIS a lot more than I ultimately did. I think that if the fourth Doctor story had involved Crowley's attempt to take over UNIT and left it at that, it would have been a much tighter and more interesting novel. There are lots of nice touches and it's very amusing in places... but the last third is appalling. I suspect that that's a function of the time the authors have to write these things in, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable to read. Then again, I never figured out the asterisks, so maybe there's an obscure reason for the lameness of the last third hidden in there. But somehow I doubt it.
Four out of Five by Jamas Enright 28/1/01
Dave Stone is, in many ways, England's answer to Peter David, writing great stories full of humour and respectful of continuity while at the same time subverting continuity for their own needs. In Heart of TARDIS, Dave Stone intended to give continuity a kicking 'like it was the Marquis de Sade' but the worst niggle merely involves Sergeant Benton. [Peter David is an amazingly successful American writer, who writes books for Star Trek and Babylon 5, and many comics including The Incredible Hulk, Supergirl and Spyboy.]
That aside, what we have are two Doctors and two stories. Most multi-Doctor stories involve the Doctors ganging up on whatever problem. In Heart of TARDIS the stories are kept separate, although they are linked. The plot tends to get a bit convoluted, but everything comes together at the end.
The Second Doctor, with Victoria and Jamie, are in the town of Lychberg, containing many parodies, some subtle, some not so. Most of this part of the story is through the eyes of Victoria, and is portrayed wonderfully. Jamie is very under-used, but the Troughton Doctor comes across well. It's very hard to show Troughton's physical humour, but Dave Stone's own humour makes up for it.
The Fourth Doctor and Romana part is supposedly in the middle of the Key to Time arc, but there is no sign of that search here. The Doctor is asked to look into a disaster that threatens the universe, but he goes after an old friend in trouble. Romana is written beautifully, showing the wonderful sense of hauteur that she displayed in the series.
The best character here is Katherine Delbane, an outsider investigating UNIT, someone who, though we know what UNIT is up to, we can still sympathise with when she gets shut out. This also makes it easy to side with her as the pawn who gets the power to kick some ass.
The main downside is that in many places Dave Stone tries too hard, and doesn't always succeed, usually in his humour. The addendum at the end, culled from something he wrote for Perfect Timing 2, is an add-on, but I liked it as it contained some interesting ideas. However it could have easily been left out without any ill effect.
This isn't Dave Stone's best story ever, I liked The Mary Sue Extrusion better, but a very enjoyable read none-the-less. It keeps its surprises, and contains two Doctors for your dollar. Works for me.
It's scary, scary! by Andrew McCaffery 24/4/01
It takes almost two hundred pages before Heart Of TARDIS becomes in any way enjoyable, but by that time the reader has to wonder why one even bothered. Heart Of TARDIS is basically a story and its sequel squashed together inside one book for no real good reason. It's bogged down by its own pomposity and collapses under its own weight.
I felt that Dave Stone's characterization of the two Doctors was just slightly off. The second Doctor was somewhat too cartoonish for me, and the fourth just missed the mark of being Tom Baker type insanity and ended up being Dave Stone type insanity (which is a completely different style of madness, believe it or not). On the other hand, Romana was spot-on, and I could exactly picture Mary Tamm's holier-than-thou attitude without it going too far over the top. Victoria is also done quite well, and Stone does an excellent job of viewing the developing situation through the eyes of a 19th Century woman without descending into stereotypes and cliches. His Jamie was perhaps not done so well, but Stone is smart enough to recognize this, and wisely keeps Jamie out of the main action.
For some reason the ending to this story feels extremely rushed which is odd because the first nine-tenths of the book seemed to be happening in slow motion. One is waiting for something to happen for almost the full length of the book and then when something finally does occur, it's over before one has time to react. I got the impression that the author had a really good idea for putting two different Doctors in the same book, but forgot what that was long before he reached the end. The ending doesn't resolve, it just sort of hangs there, and the reader has to wonder what all this careful build-up was for. Far too many things appear to be done completely at random and without any real thought behind them. There is a difference between making something deliberately offbeat and twisted, and just doing random things at arbitrary intervals. Instead of taking these strange elements and perhaps doing something original to them, they are quickly dropped and then replaced with something else so that nothing has time to develop into anything remarkable. The result is a just a jumbled mess of half finished thoughts.
All in all, there are a few parts of the book that work fairly well, but they are very few and very far between.
(On a completely unrelated note, Stone really missed out on a lot of funny material by not taking advantage of the fact that he had a Baltimore native as one of his bad guys. Lines such as, "Tell us what we wanna know, hon, or we'll send you downyoshen", "Hey, Brigadier, you wanna have a Colt '45 at the plant and then goh walk by da harrber?", "We thought you'd died; died or gonna Catonsville" and "Wir gunna have to take over da world tamorroh, mah fellow Baltimorons, 'cause right now we're listenin' to Kirk, Mark and Lopez" were conspicuous by their absence.)
Will & Disgrace by Sean Homrig 16/5/01
This book had everything going for it from the beginning. A decent author. Two doctors. Humor. A great beginning that had me pondering and craving for more. And then, beginning at roughly page 194, everything falls apart into a confusing mishmosh that left me trying to finish the book off as quickly as I could so I could get on to the next book.
The idea of incorporating two Doctors in the same story but in two adventures independent of one another is a great one, and I'm glad Stone didn't try anything too ambitious by having the Second and Fourth Doctors meet face to face. I knew, from reading other reviews and literature on the internet, that the two storylines would merge in the end, but I felt that the Second Doctor's story came out far on top over the other. I could tell that Stone had a great deal of fun writing these parts, and I appreciated the subtle allusions to certain American sitcoms. Troughton's Doctor was written splendidly and Jamie is on the mark (I imagine he's one of the easiest companions to write about) and, as was mentioned before, Victoria was used splendidly. Quite frankly, she doesn't have very much to do in this story other than observe and comment, but I enjoyed seeing her point of view. One particular scene that sticks out is her buying clothes at the Gap.
And then there's the Fourth Doctor part of the story. I started off enjoying this and as soon as the Doctor and Romana arrived at UNIT I began wishing for the story to swing back to the Troughton plot. Where Stone succeeded with the Second Doctor, he failed with the Fourth Doctor. Perhaps it was the UNIT setting, but everything the Fourth Doctor said I could have seen the Third Doctor saying. It was as though the story was originally made for the Third Doc and then, just to have some wickedly clever passages with Romana's point of view, the Fourth Doc was put in his place. I did enjoy Romana as much as I did Victoria though, particularly her attitude toward 20th century Earth.
So I enjoyed one part of the story and tolerated the other. And then, somewhere in Chapter Twenty, everything fell apart. I've wracked my brains trying to figure this out, and perhaps it's because Stone is more successful at bringing out character rather than situations. He paints his settings by having his characters act or comment on them, much like Jamie and Victoria at the mall. As a result, when there's something absolutely mind blowing going on (like two demon-possessed bodies duking it out or a gigantic being formed completely out of living people manhandling the TARDIS), I couldn't quite figure out what was going on. Admittedly, this might be my own fault. However, at some point the Doctor turns to Romana and says, "You know what's going on, don't you?" and she replies, "Why yes, I was waiting for you to explain it, though," and he says, "I was waiting for you to explain it." In the long run, their situation is never fully explained anyway. I kept waiting for someone like the Brigadier or Jo Grant to come stumbling in and demand an explanation. Perhaps this is because I enjoy a story with content and explanation rather than a sampling of what it would be like if the TARDIS was on LSD, but there you have it.
There's a similar problem with the conclusion of the Second Doctor's story. It basically ends with a flash-forward of Victoria saying something like, "Wow, that was really something how you accomplished so and so." Okay, so WHAT happened? Once again, I waited for an explanation that never came.
After putting this book down, I sat and thought about what happened and why and I simply couldn't come to a conclusion. I considered picking it up again and skimming through the last third of the book to find out, but I felt that in the long wrong it wasn't worth it. How sad. A well-written and entertaining story that simply fell flat.
Apres Moi, Le Deluge... by John Seavey 13/6/01
I finally broke down and bought the Doctor Who novels I'd been behind on--keeping in mind that I'd bought exactly two PDA's since Grave Matter had come out, and finished one of them, and that the last EDA I'd read was The Space Age, we are talking about a lot of books. Normally, I read them all, then post reviews in a batch, but I felt that for 17 books, this might be overdoing it a tad, so I'm going to break it down a bit more, and review book by book. First things first: Heart of TARDIS, by Dave Stone. The non-spoiler version; I liked it, but I'm a sucker for Dave Stone. :)
OK, first, I'll admit that there's a nasty, suspicious, mean-spirited part of my mind that thinks I enjoyed this because I wasn't at Gallifrey and didn't see the author make a complete arse of himself. :) I actually thought this was Stone's most disciplined work to date; very few of the linguistic flights of fancy and strange, deranged, Douglas Adams-esque passages that I've come to expect from him. (Excepting the end, of course, and his fake pulp magazine, where he's doing vintage Stone.) However, since I enjoyed his Adams-pastiche style, this was not exactly an unmitigated pleasure for me. There were points I wanted to see some of the goofiness back. But on the whole, I thought he did a reasonably tight job with the prose, and I saw very little evidence of the "things are going on, but I'm not going to tell you what because you can't understand" syndrome that others claimed infected the novel.
The plot was reasonably tight, feeling very much like one of the old Virgin books... prototype TARDISes, which could have dropped straight out of any Marc Platt story, magic as a force in the Whoniverse, which cropped up in any number of spots (and Aleister Crowley, who wasn't bad at all in role as villain), and lots of twisted and gory murders, which was never a staple of the show, but which the Virgin books had in abundance.
The one thing different about this book, in my mind, was the characterization. The old Virgin MA's had a spot-on Fourth Doctor, and a Second Doctor who always seemed generic at best; Stone, in this book, writes what could be one of the best Second-Doctor portrayals in any Who book, Virgin or BBC, but his Fourth Doctor seems to be written at times like the Seventh... or the Fifth... or really, anyone but the Fourth Doctor. This is a weakness of the book, but I was able to overlook it.
One of the nicest touches, I thought, was the way he suggested that after setting three or four novels in between the Key to Time stories, the Doctor and Romana weren't ever really that hot on looking for the thing, and treated it as a hobby more than a quest. Sure, it's revisionist and in stark contrast to the way the Key to Time series always felt, but... well, dangit, I thought it was funny. :)
The in-jokes, since they were a feature of many other reviews... the Fitzroy Tavern one almost completely slipped by me, and would have done so altogether had I not remembered a previous reviewer mentioning it. A non-insider would probably just have figured that the Tavern was some hangout for actors in the modern day and left it at that. The Lychburg-Springfield connection... odd, I grant, very odd, but it didn't really detract from the book. On the other hand, it didn't really add to it either. I guess it falls in my book as "just one of those things."
Next time, I'll be discussing Independence Day, and talking about how idiotic it is that Jeff Goldblum can hack into alien technology using a Macintosh...er, wait. Wrong Independence Day. :)
Sorry, couldn't resist.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 20/2/03
This is one of the funnier DW books I've read. The story is... well... um... I'll have to get back to you on that. Anyhoo, it involves the two most anarchic Doctors (2 & 4), who don't meet, but are involved in coinciding strange events. Dave Stone manages to channel Douglas Adams writing a Clive Barker DW novel, with an omniscient narrator, plenty of pop-culture references and some incredibly LOL lines and asides. The characters are well done, especially Romana and Victoria, who have a lot to do besides scream and look good.
Some people might not like the flippant attitude to the Key to Time quest, which is kind of ignored, but there have been worse manglings of Who continuity before and after this. This is a good 'un, especially if you like your Who on the humorous side. And besides, how can you not like a tale that references the Simpsons, Cheers, Robot Monster and Cat Women on the Moon?
How could I have been so stupid? by Joe Ford 16/5/03
This is such an obscenely awful book I cannot believe I had the nerve to put it on my list of best Dave Stone books in my Top Ten Authors section! What was I on when I first read this? I have just spent four thoroughly irritating evenings trying to wade through this literate muck to reach the end (of the horrible nightmare, it turned out!). There are so many problems I do not know where to begin. And the biggest problem of all is that it is so bloody BRILLIANT in places the fact that it ends up being such an annoying headache makes it worse.
Let's start with the good stuff. Three times I laughed my head off. That's actually quite good for a Doctor Who book where I'm usually grinning or chuckling to myself but to actually make me laugh out loud (and several times when I think about the scenes again) is remarkable. That is one of Dave Stone's best talents, he takes the apparently normal and manages to make it absurd. And the reference to Queer as Folk where K9 turned up a party of gay groover Vince actually turning out to be the real K9 is hysterical!!! Also insane but classic is the thought of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria having to stay the night in a hotel room full of S and M equipment (and the Doctor suggesting the man at reception "give them a hand"). And finally of particular hilarity is the comical characters Slater and McCrae who sit around and discuss Romana's earrings. Very funny.
Victoria is so beautifully voiced it is a shame that she does absolutely sod all throughout. The scenes with Victoria and her distinctly Victorian view on their time travelling adventures were often a joy, if a little different to the Victoria we are used to seeing on screen. Looking through her eyes at a modern day American mall was breathtaking and her opinion of the Doctor was quite surprising in places. The book would have been a whole lot better if we had Victoria telling the story more often but her scenes are few and far between.
Okay that's the good stuff. The bad stuff starts here...
You have to be in the right mood to read a Dave Stone book. If your concentration is up to it they can be intensely rich experiences, the imaginative Sky Pirates! is an absolute joy (mind you that was Stone writing to impress, his first contribution to the range) and his Benny books are often hysterically perceptive (I LOVED Ship of Fools!). He has a way of telling a story that is quite unlike any author I've ever experienced. It's what I tend to call the long-winded approach. He will go to great lengths to describe a character that by the time you have finished listening to his life story and every detail about his surroundings you have forgotten there is a plot going on. He also has a tendency to write really long sentences, with loads of commas, that go on and on and on, just to try and come across as being really clever using extra huge words that make you scratch your head and before you have finished said sentence you have forgotten the begining of it already. Just like that one really. With his streamline plots or fast paced ideas it works a treat (the first two thirds of The Slow Empire were enjoyable on those terms) but in the case of Heart of TARDIS it just stinks.
I mean just look at the plot (ahem, is there a word for lack of plot?)... okay we'll just say let's look at the plotless plot. The Doctor(s) don't even arrive at their intended destinations until halfway through the book! And people say it took Colin Baker ages to arrive on a planet! They fart about chasing K9, doing unnesscercary TARDIS repairs and generally sodding around trying to make us laugh when all we want is for them to GET ON WITH IT! In the meantime we have several other 'plot' threads happening, an attack on UNIT, the sinister Crowley whisked off to America, blah, blah but these are written without any sense of urgency or charisma I was nodding off! Indeed Dave's long winded prose meant even these plots crawled along hopelessly whilst he continues his trademark diversions (telling you a part of his story but then suddenly springing off into another, completely arbitrary story). To be honest I can't imagine a non-Who reader (or even the average Who-reader) getting past the first few yawn inducing chapters.
Most of the characterisation sucks (and I mean SUCKS!). The second Doctor as depicted here is an insult to the mischievous genius Patrick Troughton played on screen. Oh, the Doctor could be clown-ish at times but never as utterly daft as he appears here. The whole "let's have a picnic because you should always look at corpses on a full stomach, oh wait should that be empty stomachs" is so insultingly poor to both the characters and the reader I almost threw the book across my works lunch hall! Idiotically simple and barely making an appearance I ask myself was it really worth him appearing at all? Jamie is around but none of the priceless chemistry they displayed on screen in there and the gorgeous Scot hardly gets a look in! I really thought Dave Stone would perform magic with these two and have rarely felt as disappointed by a transition of characters from TV to book.
I stated before that this was a brilliant transition for Mary Tamm's Romana. That's true, it's so brilliant in fact you really want to haul out from the pages of the book and slap her around a few times. She's patronising, insulting, vain and selfish but the one thing Dave Stone forgot to include was the one thing that truly redeemed her on telly, the Romana of this book is not funny. She's a back stabbing bitch who I wouldn't choose to travel with in a month of Sundays. I'm so sorry Rob I know how much you like her (and this book) but the passages of this book she inhabits I just wanted to tear away and burn. Her scenes with the two stooges fall flat and her interrogation lacked any sense of urgency. Does nothing frighten this woman?
The fourth Doctor is a little closer to the mark, bouncing entertainingly between being critically funny and deathly serious. So thumbs up there I suppose.
Things do pick up (sort of) later on but the first half is terrible. The second half is okay until about fourty pages from the end and the whole thing derails completely. The absolute WORST thing about this book is that with so many characters to follow (the two Docs, Victoria, Jamie, Romana, Crowley, Delblane, Slater and McCrae, Wblk) and the long winded prose it takes AGES for anything to happen to any of them. So even though we care (or hate depending on the mismatched characterisation) they have done little to sustain my interest. The actual plot can be summed up easily with both Docs (the spend ages arsing about, land, get captured almost immediately, explanations, foil, the plot, the end).
There are no entertaining twists (just annoying ones). I mean where the second Doctor and co have ended up is so screamingly obvious the sad telly addict like me. And all the stuff with luring the fourth Doctor was grossly obvious too. Yawn.
Anyway I've had enough of my moaning now but I thought I would write this counterbalance all the praise above as Finn Clark, Rob Matthew and all you guys seem to think this was a classic. So maybe it's just me. Oh no, Andrew McCaffey agrees with me. For a second there I thought maybe I just didn't get it.
It's a shame I didn't enjoy this more really because the excellent fifteen year battle gag works a treat and some sections of the prose are gorgeous but in the end this was just a book of fluff dressed up as a novel that didn't work for me. The cover is totally gorgeous too, quite misleading actually...
A Review by Steve White 6/10/16
Heart of TARDIS is a Past Doctor Adventure by David Stone and features the 2nd and fourth Doctors and sounds very intriguing. It doesn't really live up to its promise though.
The plot of Heart of TARDIS isn't easy to make out. You have the second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria trapped in some city that doesn't seem real and where people are being murdered, and the fourth Doctor and Romana investigating an odd kidnapping of the Brigadier. The events are obviously linked, but it isn't clear how. On the one hand, this is irritating, but on the other it keeps things moving. Sadly things fall apart at around the two thirds mark, with Stone introducing lots of plots devices just to push the plot forward and others added for no reason, an example being the Woprut.
Whilst the story is mostly interesting and entertaining, Stone's writing style comes across as pretentious and condescending. Long words are used for no real reason, and it's never fun having to look up what words mean continually. Stone also sees fit to explain everything and add knowing insights or attempts at humour into other bits when neither are really needed.
Both the second and the fourth Doctors are done really well, with probably the best portrayal of the second in the range since Steve Lyons. My main issue here is with Stone's complete lack of continuity, with the fourth's bits feeling really wrong. I'm not adverse to fourth Doctor UNIT tales, but when the author can't even get Benton's rank correct, something is wrong. Also barely any thought is given to the Key to Time, whereas three novels previously, in Tomb of Valdemar, it was all the Doctor and Romana could do to tear themselves away from the quest. Both issues could have been rectified easily.
Companionwise, Stone has done quite well, as Victoria, Jamie and Romana are true to their TV personas. Victoria gets a fair bit of time, but all we learn is she likes women to cover up, Jamie is often forgotten about, and Romana does the bulk of the work whilst the fourth Doctor faffs about. It's not perfect, but neither is it worth marking down for. Honorary mention goes to the Brigadier, who, like Jamie, isn't in it enough. All other characters are annoying as hell however, with Crowley and Delbane being the worst offenders. I find this sort of subterfuge very irritating as it just seems lazy.
I found Heart of TARDIS great fun in places, but annoying as hell in others. I had to look up words in the dictionary and re-read entire paragraphs neither of which I really want to be doing when reading a novel. Stone basically tried far too hard, and the result is a mess with the odd little nugget of greatness. One for fans only I think.