According to many fans, this is arguably the best Doctor Who novel ever written. According to me, Christmas on a Rational Planet (by the same author) was largely pants. Thankfully, it turns out that Alien Bodies is a massive improvement on CoaRP.
If Alien Bodies were a pair of pants, it would have six legs and ten pockets, all interconnected in a not immediately obvious, intelligent manner and would feature an inordinate number of intricately woven (plot) threads.
This is a novel full of interesting, motivated characters, compelling events, shocking revelations, off the wall humour and great ideas. The basic premise is that several powerful races are interested in a relic, which is being auctioned off. They all turn up to said auction, and a melting pot of conflicting intentions is ignited. To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the effect of the revelations contained therein. Suffice to say that it's a rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills and the plot points are revealed at regular, well-judged intervals. Just when you think the story's going one way, you turn a blind corner and something else entirely occurs.
The few characters in the story are all given a chapter each in which their origins and motivations are explained. Some are more interesting than others, but even the least appealing are passable attempts to infuse life into what could otherwise be two dimensional characters.
We've got Kortez, the slightly nuts human Colonel who believes he's found a higher spiritual plane and his accompanying officer Lieutenant Bregman, who's a bit of a depressive, teetering on the edge of the abyss. Homunculette, a Time Lord from Gallifrey's future, seeking a weapon that could end 500 years of war, and his TARDIS, Marie. That's right, Marie. Seems Type 103 TARDISes are a bit more personable than the Doctor's battered old Type 40. Mr. Shift is a non-corporeal idea based life form that exists purely in conceptual space, so it has to speak through crosswords, TV listings and other arbitrary and often quite amusing means. Shift keeps its allegiance close to its chest for quite some time. Mr. Trask is a re-animated life form (zombie) working for another higher power, while the members of Faction Paradox - Justine and Manjuele - are enemies of the Time Lords, but not THE enemy. I'm keeping schtum about the final guest. The auction's being run by one 'Mr. Qixotl', someone the Doctor's apparently met before, although that's up for debate. Qixotl's essentially a galactic Del Boy, looking for a way to a quick buck. He thinks the Relic's going to set him up for life, but it could end up setting him up for death.
It's basically a cauldron of galactic politics, a G8 summit in which everyone's eyeing up everyone else and attempting to discover their intentions. The Doctor turns up with Sam and mayhem ensues. Characterisation of both the main protagonists is spot on, and Sam doesn't even whinge.
The Doctor once again is written as Life's Champion, and in many ways the Faction are the antithesis of this, the Dark Side of Time Lord culture. They worship spirits, control people's bodies and adorn their pseudo-TARDISes with skulls. So not only is this a novel about life versus death, it's also about science versus religion. The Gallifreyans used to embrace a form of religion before Rassilon's reforms, and the Faction hark back to that time, albeit in a more sinister voodoo cultist form.
There are a number of cracking jokes, some within the context of the novel, some within the context of previous adventures. I particularly enjoyed the one about Marie visiting 60s London and her Chameleon circuit failing, allowing her to become stuck in the form of a 1960s policewoman.
Bad points? Well, the opening doesn't make much sense until the epilogue, and there are some paragraphs that either need reading three times or just aren't particularly interesting, but otherwise there's not much nitpicking to be done here.
All in all, we have a novel that generates a sense of mystery about proceedings - who are the guests? Who are they working for? Why? What's being sold? When we discover what it is, which one? This paper trail of events, coupled with some excellent prose and chapter cliffhangers, ensures that you keep reading, while the celebration and expansion on the old and the introduction of the new should provide something to please every single person that picks this up.
I'm not keen on Lawrence Miles' opinions, but I'm starting to understand why people like his trousers, er, novels.
Review by Tom Hey