THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Author Paul Magrs Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53845 7
Published 2002

Synopsis: Professor Reginald Tyler?s The True History of Planets was a twentieth-century classic; an epic of dwarves and swords and wizardry. And definitely no poodles. Or at least it was when the Doctor read it. Now it tells the true tale of how the Queen of the poodles was overthrown; it?s been made into a hit movie, and it's going to cause a bloodbath on the dogworld - unless the Doctor, Fitz and Anji (and assorted friends) can sort it all out.


Reviews

Talking a load of Poodles! by Joe Ford 16/1/02

Oh what fun Doctor Who has been lately. What with the bizzare genius of The One Doctor and now this hysterical romp I'm starting to think people have found the fun in the Who universe!

Let's get down to the point. This ain't deep. It ain't even mildly serious. It pokes fun at evry aspect of science-fiction including our beloved programme. It has short chapters, more like interludes of the three tales it's telling. It's quite childish in places. And it can be read in three hours (that's how long it took me!).

And guess what? It's complete hoot! It's an incomprehensible plot that is somehow made comprehensive by it's closing chapters. And although I adore The Doctor, Fitz and Anji hanging out together they are split up here to maximum effect, revealing each of their charcters at their best. Anji is intuitive and sarcastic, Fitz is completely out of his depth and The Doctor is heroically jumping into the past and dashing around trying to prevent a disaster. And of course he knew the solutions from the beginning. Smug bastarard. I think the Fitz storyline was the most enjoyable simply because of his disbelief at how totally bizzare his life has become but Anji's growing acceptance that her home is the TARDIS was enjoyable too.

The secondary charcters are just as well drawn. Reg is a fun old codger, Noel takes madness to a new level and Iris…oops sorry Brenda was marvellously camp. As ever (oops!).

The storyline ranges from high camp to even camper and this isn't one for your run of the mill space opera Who fan but if you fancy joining this fab crew for a fun, freckless jaunt throughout time, space and poodle worlds then hop on board. I give it a thorough reccomendation and if the past year is any indication of the standard of the books then roll on 100 more!

Supplement 28/5/03:

I have read this book four times now and it appears my thoughts pretty much mirror those that have appeared in the many cult magazines circulating the South East of England. SFX awarded the book **** out of ***** saying it was "an extremely rich work offering much to the reader" and TV Zone suggested it was "a brilliant comedy" giving 7/10. I always grin insanely when merchandise I like gets a good write up.

The question is why do I enjoy this book so much? To be fair my favourite sections are the begining and the end, they just seem to be funnier and madder than the middle sections. The first eight chapters or so are just terrific, Paul Margs abandoning any sense of cynicism and reality (a blessed relief after the text heavy Adventuress) and rocketing the Doctor and his companions into a fun and frolicking adventure with talking poodles (and boars!), space stations that look like washing up bottles, obese chefs and homicidal aphids! The jokes come thick and fast in these early sections and I love to many to name but my particular favourites are...

There's loads more, especially concerning the poodles (I love the thought of the black market videos selling off human vids such as Lassie!) and a real line in dry doggie humour (there are a lot of sick puppies out there!). And the Doctor, Fitz and Anji haven't been written for this loosely since Earthworld, like I say one of the joys of a Paul Margs book is his ability to take you away from the harshness of reality and transplant into a world of fun and adventure. And if anybody needed a bit of fun it's these three!

The middle sections are still startlingly well written and witty. Planting the Doctor and assorted companions in different time zones offers a great opportunity to tell a number of equally amusing and absurd stories. My favourite is Fitz's, his encounter with you know who which was entirely unsuspected. I strikes me as odd that this new continuity free book range would offer up two old friends two books in a row! As soon as Noel Coward (what???) gets involved with the action things just jettison away from comprehensible and we are treated to some gloriously bizarre scenes of a thousand Noel Cowards wandering around the fabric of time, an army of toys attacking a gorgeously overwritten version of George Lucas and a man's face melting away! Its another of those insane Paul Margs plots that you just wonder how on earth he is going to tie up all this insanity!

Which brings us to the end of the book, the last few furiously paced chapters which inexplicably manage to answer all the questions, provide a number of unseen twists and end the tale on a heart-warming note. Almost to ruin all the fun Margs adds some references to bestiality and includes a bloodbath but even these somewhat harsh ideas are woven into the brilliant ending with acidic humour.

Is Paul Margs a comic genius of just a loon who can't control his imagination? Probably a little of both but this book manages to achieve several incredible things. Firstly it re-affirms that the EDA range is on track offering up as much fun as the series ever did. Secondly it proves how creative the books are these days contrasting this fun, fluffy and inspired piece with the historical barbarity offered up in the previous book. Thirdly it gives the Doctor and his companions a breather before things get really nasty later on (it is a joy to read this now knowing how dangerous things are about to become). And finally it has one of the best ever covers, a portrait so out of this world it could only be emblazoned with the words Doctor Who.

I think Mike Morris is very wrong when he says there is nothing special about Paul Margs' writing anymore, he manages to convey a great deal with only a few well chosen sentences. This book is packed with spoilers, excellent moments that would end up on any person's top ten EDA moments. In the end I get the impression Paul Margs writes just for the pleasure of it and considering the pleasure his works give me (and others) that is an astonishing quality indeed.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen gets a big five smiles out of five from me.


A Review by Rob Matthews 6/2/02

Paul Magrs has done it again. Literally. At its silly, audacious heart this is exactly the same book The Scarlet Empress and The Blue Angel were. You might not think so at first, as the light, zippy style of Mad Dogs is more akin to Verdigris, and there's a distinct lack of Blue Angel-ish magical realist deliberately-confusing bits. Or rather, the ones that are there fit easily into a typical Doctor Who scheme of alternate timelines -

('typical Doctor Who'; I hope Magrs doesn't read this and explode)

-, but the book is, in terms of readability, Magrs' most successful yet. He stated in his afterword in The Scarlet Empress his admiration for the quick flow of the Target novelisations, and here the influence comes to bear; Mad Dogs skims like a stone before plopping into the depths. Its the first Doctor Who novel I've read all in one sitting.

And it's fun. Magrs doesn't, as on other occasions, shove his happily infinite vortex down our throats, he's finally content to show rather than tell. And when he shows it in the form of a time-shearing Noel Coward helping out a planet of poodles, he'll get few complaints from me. Magrs once again takes his pinking shears and merrily snips away at any notion of phallocentrism the Whoniverse has ever had. Web of time my arse, as a certain adventuress might say.

Actually, the whole dogs thing did come across as a bit cutesy at first - I doubt intentionally, but it's sort of inevitable. Once the jokes start, however, it doesn't really matter. More successful for me is the timely bout of sniping at the whole sword-and-sorcery, elves-and-wizards farrago that's doing the rounds at present, the entirety of which can be cast into the flames of Mount Gormundonga never to be seen again as far as I'm concerned.

One thing stops this being Magrs' best work, and it's the lack of good old Iris. As it turns out, she is actually there, but she kind of isn't too - Noel Coward takes her usual role this time round, while she potters around as a torch singer called Brenda, for reasons left irritatingly - but unsurprisingly - unexplained. And, as with The Blue Angel, the ongoing novel line stuff just gets in the way - there it was Compassion, here it's the amnesiac Doctor. Then again, I'm a bit behind on the EDAs.

Hmm. Here's material for a monograph - Magrs and monarchy. All his Doctor Who books involve Empresses, Kings, Princes and Princesses. And the human villain here (as opposed to the canine one) is alienated and working-class. And apparently he shags dogs. I can't honestly believe this bias towards the 'upper' classes is intentional-

(I put that in inverted commas because those type of people are generally spoiled, rude and dopey. Go to Kensington & Chelsea and observe them, you'll see I'm right)

-, and it certainly doesn't show up in Magrs' non-Who 'proper' fiction. Maybe that's the one change he needs to make to his DW repertoire. Fingers (and paws) crossed for the next one, then, but this is an awful lot of fun to be going on with. And what a cover!


I Came Back As A Bag Of Groceries Accidentally Taken Off The Shelf Before The Expiration Date by Mike Morris 12/2/02

Before I start, did you know this is the 100th novel in the record breaking BBC Worldwide Doctor Who series? I know because they told me. In big gold lettering. On the front, back and spine of the book. Okay, I got the message. Still, they could have tried to reference the previous ninety-nine in the novel itself, so I guess I'm grateful; the anniversary theme goes no further than the cover.

First things first; the opening eight chapters are brilliant. Brilliant, Superb, Hilarious, and above all [insert your favourite superlative here]. They are an introduction to the main story, an exercise in grabbing the reader by the short-and-curlies and yanking him headlong into Magrs world. The passages about Tyler are lovely, a retelling of the C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien pub conversations turned into something quietly beautiful.

The Doctor's passages, meanwhile, are a hoot. They're laugh-out-loud, gut-bustingly funny. The notion of poodles running a planet is daft, but it's played very straight and is all the funnier for it.

I was hooked. I was yanked into the story, I was bought and sold. And the main story is many things.

It is a comedy romp, a no-holds barred pantomime that makes no apologies for itself.

It is a parody of big-budget sci-fi productions, Star Wars in particular.

It is a collection of the usual Magrs digs, taking in CGI graphics, swords 'n' sorcery, and the po-faced idea of the Web of Time amongst others.

It is the creation of a weird, surreal Earth littered with references to the Doctor's past that's at once haunting and funny.

And this above it all; it is crap.

It is rubbish, so rubbish I couldn't even be bothered disliking the thing. I cut through Paul Magrs customarily beautiful prose, I reached the end, I shrugged my shoulders, and it was a couple of days until I decided that I didn't like it.

Basically, we're introduced to the poodle society, and then Fitz, Anji and the Doctor then split themselves up into various time zones and stuff happens. It's not really worth explaining, because it doesn't make any sense anyway. This book is a collection of events and people held together by a very silly and illogical plot, which revolves around the central premise that a film could cause a society revolution. By that logic the USA should have descended into anarchy after JFK, but hey, roll with it.

I'm willing to admit that possibly, well, it's not you, it's me. After all, the world and his wife thought Verdigris was hilarious, but I didn't find it remotely funny. Similarly, this book appears to be going down a treat, but (from chapter nine onwards) I just don't find this sort of thing amusing or clever. It's just collecting silly things and putting them together, and then saying "isn't that a laugh?" Well, no.

Other misguided premises upon which this book is based are that Noel Coward and poodles are inherently funny, that recycling Star Wars dialogue is inherently clever, and that criticising CGI is material worthy of a novel rather than a pub conversation.

What is this? It's a mishmash of ideas ludicrous, ideas that jump up and down and say look at me, I'm mad I am! Look, Noel Coward! Laugh, everyone! Hey, it's some poodles! Laugh! As it goes on it degenerates into a collection of people pulling off latex masks to reveal their true identity, but I couldn't remember who these people were anyway and I didn't really care. To borrow a sentiment from The Discontinuity Guide; perhaps this is a knowing satire of bad science fiction. On the other hand, it could just be bad science fiction.

One thing should be mentioned as an honourable exception to the general malaise. It's a train journey the Doctor makes to London, followed by a weird trek through the streets of the capital. All the while he's surrounded by odd references to his past adventures, and indeed to other fiction (The Lost World pops up). It's a ghostly journey, lovely to read, that seems almost to have been written at another time and incorporated into the book -- as out-of-place as it is haunting.

And then in the middle of it there's a silly reference to The Master. Says it all really.

If this is satire, it's satire-by-numbers. It feels as though Paul Magrs hasn't tried hard enough. I'm sorry, but the plot doesn't make any sense, and the characters are non-existent. It's a lazy book. Maybe the defence is that we're parodying blockbuster sci-fi films with bad characters and bad plots, but I find that sort of thinking lazy anyway. There's a real lack of conviction, as if the author has moved on from Doctor Who, as if his interest has gone elsewhere. Verdigris may have been a spiteful little book, but it never felt as jaded as Mad Dogs and Englishmen. I just don't see what makes this cut-and-paste approach to comedy more inventive or intelligent than, say, Coldheart.

And yet I kept reading. I couldn't bring myself to laugh, I couldn't bring myself to be annoyed, but Magrs turns out such easy-to-read prose (even on autopilot) that I kept on going. I didn't care, though, not really. Which I suspect is the worse crime of all; I suspect that Paul doesn't mind pissing his readers off, but making them shrug their shoulders is a different story. Even the use of Iris is irrelevant and smacks of boredom with her character, with the story, with Doctor Who as a whole.

Once Paul Magrs tried to reinvent Doctor Who. Then he took the piss out of it. With the wonderful Stones of Venice he inhabited the Doctor Who universe for the first time, no questions asked; but with Mad Dogs and Englishmen he doesn't seem to know what to do there any more. This book is, ultimately, the type of formulaic recycling that the author has decried so much in his previous work, and has nothing much to recommend it.

Maybe's he's changed, or maybe I have, but the Paul Magrs agenda appears to have become somewhat irrelevant. I never though I'd find myself saying this, but there is nothing particularly remarkable or interesting about Magrs latest book, and -- sadly for the 100th BBC novel -- you won't be missing anything if you skip it.


A Review by Finn Clark 24/2/02

I think I've worked out why some people don't like Paul Magrs. It was a peculiar concept for me to get my head around, but after much deliberation I believe I've got a handle on it. If most Doctor Who books are solid meat and potatoes fare, a Paul Magrs novel is like a meal of meringue. It's sweet, frothy, deligthful and almost weightless. Thinking back, I realise I've loved his books largely for non-plot reasons: The Scarlet Empress for its Arabian Nights reinvention of Doctor Who and The Blue Angel for its sheer fractured literariness. They're beautiful, crystalline confections, but their plots tend to be thin wisps of justification for his playful, witty writing.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen, however, has a plot. A real, genuine, honest-to-goodness plot. It's silly as hell and so full of camp irony that the cover is almost the least outrageous thing about it, but there's twists and turns and everything. You want to know what happens next! The ending is weak, since one's natural desire for a dramatic resolution is thwarted by the fact that it's predominantly a silly resolution, its wrist hanging limply and a twinkle in its eye, but I'm still officially impressed.

However one doesn't read a Paul Magrs book for the plot. This book is a scream. It's amazingly written, crystalline with wit and often hilarious. This might be my favourite Magrs novel since Scarlet Empress. I could sit here all day citing cool stuff herein - the Doctor's card index (which goes from The Blue Angel to The Ancestor Cell), Flossie (whom I desperately wanted to become a companion), the Brenda twist... everything's fabulous. The book knows exactly how silly its doggies are and plays it to the hilt. "There are different poodle factions at large," said the Doctor, sotto voce. "And we can't be at all sure which are friendly and which are not."

And damn, Fitz and Anji work well. They kick the arse of Virgin's companions, being pretty much on a par with Benny and Roz without being lumbered with Chris or New Ace. It's already like coming back to old friends.

There are thinly disguised versions of Tolkein, C.S.Lewis, George Lucas and more... and when I say "thinly disguised", I'm talking about coverings so flimsy they'd embarrass a lap dancer. Tolkein - sorry, Tyler - lives on a mostly real-ish Earth so is less interesting at the beginning than the wackier outer space stuff, but his story is still good.

After this and Henrietta Street, it's hard to believe we're still living in the same universe. The cover for this book is perfect, taking itself exactly as seriously as the text does. (I like my eyes to bleed!) Mad Dogs and Englishmen isn't a deep and meaningful dissertation on the meaning of life, but rather a camp confection of fluffy doggies and silliness. Gigglesome.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 28/3/02

Imagine a novel with killer technicolor poodles from outer space, Noel Coward as a time-travelling interloper, thinly veiled versions of George Lucas & JRR Tolkien, a magic bus driven by a Las Vegas lounge singer, and numerous potshots at The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

Yep, gotta be a Paul Magrs DW book.

Paul Magrs is an acquired taste. I've had three different opinions for his three previous efforts: enjoyed The Scarlet Empress, loathed Verdigris,apathetic to The Blue Angel.

So, I had no idea what to expect when I picked the fuschia colored book with the pink poodle on the front cover.

Um, there's a relatively cohesive plot, for Paul Magrs, which is rare. Magrs also sticks to the third person voice, another rarity.

But the biggest surprise is that he aims his barbs away from DW, unlike Verdigris and The Blue Angel. Instead, as mentioned before, he goes after Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, even going as far a recycling dialogue: "You're my only hope", among others.

This book had moments that made me laugh out loud, as well as groan.

The Plot? Well, it's silly, but concerns the planet of the poodles attempting to prevent a film version of a book that describes the rebellion that took place. However, the book is supposed to be about Hobbits, Elves, Orcs, Wizards and such. The TARDIS team splits into three time zones on Earth to solve the mystery and save the day.

Characters? Well, we get the return of the spiky, yet fun loving Doctor that was in The Scarlet Empress. We get a version of Anji which is a bit bland, and a solid Fitz. And it wouldn't be a Magrs book without Iris, nee Brenda Soobie, the aforementioned lounge singer. I really like her this time, her best outing since TSE. The poodles are cute, but not too annoying. The pastiches are well done, although there no attempt to hide George Lucas, nor JRR Tolkien or Ray Harryhausen (the effects man, Ron Von Armin). Noel Coward, in his various incarnations is okay, but hollow, considering how important he is to the plot.

The writing, oddly, is restrained. Not to say it's bad, but more Terrance Dicks than the lyrical literature of Magrs previous efforts. There are the bits of psychedelic loopiness that scream Magrs, along with a cheeseball ending and pot shots at "the web of time".

One can probably equate this as a Terrance Dicks anniversary adventure on acid. I finished this book in about three hours, had a few laughs, and didn't fling the book around the room.

Ergo, it's recommended.

7 out of 10


Mad Magrs, The Englishman by Andrew McCaffrey 9/4/02

Pity the eyes of the Doctor Who fan. In November of 2001, the BBC published The Adventuress of Henrietta Street - a book written in such a small font that it's currently being used as a calibration device for electron microscopes. After numerous readers were spotted literally bleeding from the eyes due to excess squinting, reports of blindness spread throughout fandom faster than casting rumors about Ken Dodd. "The BBC," up-in-arms fans demanded, "will have to do something about this state of affairs! No more janus thorns! No more tiny print! No more making our eyeballs bleed! Have pity on our orbs of sight! Give us something soothing to look at!" And in their wisdom the BBC, upon hearing these pleas of mercy from our optically challenged fans friends (of which this humble reviewer counts himself as a fully paid up member), decided to follow Adventuress with a new book from Paul Magrs. A new book about poodles. A new book with a bright pink cover, featuring a bright pink poodle reclining on a yellow sofa, holding a cigarette and a yellow water pistol. In case there were any optic nerves that hadn't spontaneously combusted upon initial viewing of this cover, there is also a giant reflective Doctor Who logo on the front, that screams to anyone who will listen about how there are now one hundred BBC Doctor Who Novels in existence (I can only assume that a cover claiming that this is the one hundredth book since the BBC took the license away from Virgin didn't go over terribly well in the board meetings). So, in case you missed anything, there's a bright, shiny, reflective gold logo glowing on top of a screamingly bright pink cover published right after November's Hold-The-Book-Very-Close-To-Your-Head fest. Why does Justin Richards hate my eyes so?

Personally, I think the cover is one of the most killingly funny things I've even seen on the front of the book in a very long time. On the other hand, I have absolutely no wish to persuade that of anyone who happens to think that it is the most garish and ugly work that they've ever seen in their life (I would probably only mention the fact that they seem to be completely missing the point). The extreme pinkness of the cover is something that someone is going to either love or abhor and there's absolutely no reason to try to dissuade a person from their opinion on that. While fans will forever be divided on that subject, the book itself is quite a lot of fun. It is the epitome of romp. It is the embodiment of camp. It is the quintessence of silliness. It's great.

For those readers who thought that all books following The Adventuress of Henrietta Street would end up being massively heavy books, have no fear. Mad Dogs is possibly one of the lightest books that the Doctor Who range has ever produced. The novel is so light that while I put the book aside during breaks in reading, if it was not for the weight of the bookmark that I shoved into its pages, I would be in eternal fear of the novel being caught on a stray current of air and floating away to some unknown destination. (For any overly sensitive review-reader who is worried about the fate of my copy now that the bookmark has been removed from Mad Dogs' innards need fret no more. My copy is now resting comfortably on my bookshelf next to a copy of Adventuress, and the gravitational pull of that tome will keep Mad Dogs securely anchored to the Earth for many many years to come.)

In addition to be a delightfully quick book to read, it's also a terribly funny one. Mad Dogs is one of the few Doctor Who stories where virtually every joke or bad pun creates a laugh. Not a book to be taken seriously, it succeeds largely because it's written in such a fun and quick style. Paul Magrs' prose style is incredibly engaging; it's Terrance Dicks with a real sense of poetry. While some books get humor all wrong by dwelling too much on the outrageousness of the situational comedy, Mad Dogs quickly moves from one insane setup to another. There are some wonderfully described passages that will have you chuckling to yourself for weeks. It's fluffy, but it's not insultingly so. It's vaguely clever enough that I certainly didn't feel that I had wasted my time on something inconsequential. It's amazingly entertaining, and while I wouldn't want to read an entire series of books like this, as a one-off it succeeds magnificently.

Mad Dogs works as a great standalone romp through the weird and wacky world of Who. If you're someone who doesn't like your Who to be horribly serious at all times, then in all likelihood you'll adore this one. But then, you probably realized the lack of inherent seriousness present in the text when you threw your hands over your face to protect yourself from the intense radioactive blast of a cover.


Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 17/5/02

Either Paul Magrs' writing is getting better, or I'm getting more tolerant, but Mad Dogs and Englishmen has reached the status of 'not bad, for a Paul Magrs book'. I can take the poodles. I can take the appearance of the person I won't name. I can even take the ludicrous 'toys that move without explanation' section. Maybe I have become more tolerant. Or maybe I can accept these things as a part of Doctor Who without question. The Scarlet Empress and The Blue Angel really irked me, the latter especially so with its ending (or rather, lack of ending). Verdigris is far better than that, but still contained many bizarre instances that seemed there for their sheer bizarreness. But this book was far better than even that. Maybe Paul Magrs is becoming more mainstream?

Mad Dogs and Englishmen marks the '100th BBC Doctor Who Novel', but other than that there's nothing particularly special about it. The story deals with history being changed through interference of poodles; not exactly what one would expect. The story ticks along at a nice pace, and even when the narrative splits into three streams I found myself engaged by each section even while hanging on for the next. The plot develops a lot slower, however, and several events I felt were there mainly for style more than anything else, so many of them fell flat when they were not followed up on (for instance, the TARDIS's first materialisation). In fact, the book the story is about, The True History of Planets, sounded like it had a lot more potential that either version of it ends up being.

The Doctor is acting in manic-upswing mode, leaping about from place to place, taking whatever he comes across with good cheer, and claiming to know what's going on (although even Anji doesn't find this credible). No more worrying about his memory, no worrying about becoming one with the Earth. There's only one piece of physical evidence carrying over from The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, but it's never easy for the author following a supposedly epic book (in fact, this is the second time Paul Magrs has written a book coming out after a Lawrence Miles book).

Fitz is an extreme version of himself, into various kinks and interested only in the baser aspects of life (which fits in with where he ends up). Anji is fun, and she gets to meet my favourite character in the book, Ron Von Arnim.

My second favourite character is Flossie, mainly just for her name. The rest of the characters are pretty much just there. Each has their own aspects, but none of them really stand out for special mention. Von Arnim had them all beat by being more passionate about his topic, and just by having a topic I found interesting. Apart from a few characteristics, the poodles themselves come across as largely human, which means their main oomph comes from being poodle. However, apart from the initial shock value this causes when various characters meet the poodles, there isn't much difference between the poodles and any other race that populates the Doctor Who universe.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen is a pleasant enough read, and, for me, a cut above Paul Magrs' other books, but still not a lot more than a mediocre book.


Bold, fun, captivating and hilarious by Robert Smith? 28/6/02

So that's the cover out of the way, what about the book itself?

Actually, there's no difference whatsoever. For once, this is a book that can be quite accurately judged by its cover. If you think the cover is funny and exactly the sort of fluffy goodness the books need, then you'll probably have much the same impression about the contents inside. If you think it's the greatest travesty ever inflicted on the Doctor Who range, then you're probably best off skipping this one.

A part of me wants to say that Paul Magrs has been getting better with every book, but there's not quite enough here to surpass the magnificent Verdigris. It's still a close call, though, because this is a great read and a lot more accessible than his previous EDAs.

Part of it is Magrs by numbers: Iris, weird goings on with no explanation, a thinly disguised parody of something most of us are likely familiar with. But this time he avoids repeating jokes he's used about three times before (eg The Seven Irises), the parody is of actual real life events rather than an old TV series, Iris is barely in it (at least as herself) and the unexplained weird goings-on are some of the best bits of the book.

I love the carefree approach to messing around with time, most embodied by Noel Coward and his pinking shears, but also in the TARDIS randomly flitting around three timezones. The first part of the book seemed to be trying a bit too hard to be amusing, with a lot of jokes falling flat (although Stellus Pontin detailing how easy it would be to kill Professor Jag is hilarious), but by the end I was chuckling away. I'm not sure if the jokes got better, or if the book's charm simply wore down my defences, but this is exactly what the EDAs need more of. A huge part of the TV series was all about laughing in the face of danger and seeing the inherent worth of humour and friendship. The books, with extremely rare exceptions, simply haven't done this. That's also a valid approach, especially given the series itself was often po-faced, but it always warms my fanboy heart when the books give me something in the spirit of the TV series I fell in love with.

The highlight of the book is possibly the Doctor's train journey towards the end. It's a wonderful piece of writing, but I only wish I understood it! I'm not sure we're meant to, but I still think I've missed a lot. The special effects creatures (including a toy Zygon!) coming to life isn't explained either, but it's written in such an anticipatory way that you're just waiting for them to come alive and when they have you don't notice that it's completely unexplained.

The plot is also extremely loopy and not just for the fact that it has weird stuff going on all through it or a person with a dog for a lover. The whole of reality is reset due to the Doctor... completely forgetting about something important. I'm not quite sure about this, but I think I like it. It does bring back memories of the congenital idiot of earlier EDAs, but it's also done with style and humour, so that gives it an edge.

I loved the Doctor making up a fantastical story for the writers' group that turns out to be an unlikely sounding hodge-podge of Terror of the Zygons, The Android Invasion and Planet of the Spiders. Professor Jag is also a really amusing character. It's a pity he gets killed off in the end, I could really see him as a recurring, if tiny, villain.

It's a weird book to be touting the title of the hundredth BBC book, though. This isn't exactly the celebration Happy Endings was... but the NAs had a lot that was their own to celebrate. The BBC books seem to be constantly in denial about themselves. Still, I'm glad it was this one that got the celebratory title and not The Adventuress of Henrietta Street.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen has a lot going for it. It's got a tonne of amusing jokes and a whirlwind plot that moves so fast you don't have to think about it. But above all, it's hugely fun and that's exactly what the Doctor ordered.


A Review by John Seavey 23/7/02

Well, it was bad... but I certainly can say it was never boring. In point of fact, it was awful, but awful in one of those peculiarly entertaining ways that had me breezing through the novel, all the while entirely certain that the author wasn't pulling off what he thought he was. On the other hand, one thing was fingernails-on-blackboard, chewing-on-tinfoil, slamming-fingers-in-car-door level irritating...

Gallifrey is gone. Wiped from history. The Time Lords are no more. Only four remain of their race.

So why, oh sweet suffering FUCK, why did one of them have to be fucking Iris fucking Wildthyme? Why couldn't she have been retroactively erased from existence? Even if she wasn't, did we have to see her? Wasn't there a "no continuity" rule? Shouldn't Justin have said, "No, no old characters"? Or at least, "no, no gratingly annoying pastiches/parodies of the Doctor who've been in every fucking book you've written for the range"? I know that there will be some who say that her appearance in the book is short. To them, I say: NOT SHORT ENOUGH.

Other than that, the book is cheerfully, enjoyably awful. When the villains of the piece are Noel Coward and his Magical Pinking Shears, the Evil Poodle Empress, and a pastiche of what I can only assume is H.P. Lovecraft on LSD with a bestiality fetish, you can tell you are not dealing with a book that is meant to be taken as anything other than a joke. This is fine, so far as it goes, and so far as you basically then package it up, put it in a nice separate universe well away from the bleak, serious, deep, thought-provoking books on either side of it, and forget it ever happened to the characters you know and love. On that level, I really, really enjoyed Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Except for the bits with Iris Wildthyme in them.


A Review by Brett Walther 17/1/04

I'm all for a bit of fun. The distant memory of the angst-ridden and downright depressing Virgin New Adventures means that I'll always have a place in my heart for the more light-hearted Doctor Who books that have had a chance to see print in the BBC Books era.

But there's a fine line between fun and ridiculous, and I think Paul Magrs has crossed that line in Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

I can deal with a race of technologically advanced poodles with time travel capability. Likewise, the notion of the poodle Princess attempting to incite a revolution on her planet through a contrived chain of events involving the production of a film on Earth and the corruption of a major piece of English literature, is far-fetched, but still palatable.

What I can't deal with are Magrs' regular plunges into the downright bizarre. It's frankly not funny that the TARDIS has squashed a sentient life form when it materializes on the space station, and the Doctor's rather relaxed attitude towards the incident is unbelievably out of character. He shrugs off the apparent death as if it were a trifle, and actually spares more time thinking about why such a thing has never happened before than he does bothering with apologies.

A time travelling Noel Coward is simply a deus ex machina, and a not terribly funny one at that. What's worse is that his godlike powers have been bestowed upon him by none other than Iris Wildthyme. (Since when has she had the resources to grant human beings the luxury of travelling along through their own timeline; not to mention the gift of the cringe-worthy "time travelling pinking shears".)

There's also a bizarre -- and ultimately irrelevant -- sequence in which the Doctor and his poodle companion hop on a train where they encounter a bunch of fictional characters that have for some reason come to life. Whatever brought them to life is no doubt the same force that causes an army of inanimate special effects monsters to gruesomely murder a filmmaker in another subplot. Inexplicable and inexcusable, hiding behind he excuse of "well, it's fun": clumsiness passed on as silliness.

It's the same flaw that made Grimm Reality so completely appalling: weird things happen because they CAN. Aging author Arthur Tyler is brought to the poodle homeworld (creatively named "dogworld") by the poodle Emperor just because the canine ruler felt like trying out "a little trans-temporal kidnapping". Here, as well as in many other sections of the book, motives are glossed over and substituted with supposed quirkiness.

I thought things were picking up when Magrs hints at first that a sinister, bearded satan-worshipping writer named Freer is in the employ of the Master. Unfortunately, the Master turns out to be -- because his inclusion in the book is apparently, hilarious -- Noel Coward.

Furthermore, when he's not focusing his energies on an attempt to be clever, Magrs' dialogue often slips into the banal. The Doctor's "I think, maybe, it's time we got everyone home. It seems about that kind of time" is jaw-droppingly redundant. There are also far too many slow-mo, melodramatic "NOOOO!"'s in the rather trite "beat 'em up" conclusion on the dogworld.

These flaws spoil what starts out to be a promising novel. The notion of the mysterious manipulation of a Lord of the Rings-type novel had me thoroughly intrigued, and Magrs' prose is -- as we've come to expect -- very easily digestible. It's a pity that it soon descends into a rather unrewarding runaround that sacrifices the potential of its plot for cheap laughs.

6.5/10