The Clockwise Man
If the author of this review's feelings about this book could be summed up in one word, it would be... bleh. Just... bleh.
After a good final run of EDAs, culminating in Lance Parkin's The Gallifrey Chronicles (not quite a member of the Who fiction "A" team alongside Alien Bodies, Lungbarrow, The Infinity Doctors, Timewyrm: Revelation and The Dying Days, but certainly a very strong "B" team player), I was looking forward to the NDAs, despite their rather unattractive and cluttered cover design. However, after reading The Clockwise Man, I think I now have a vague inkling of what Doctor Who fiction fans must have felt after finishing off the glorious NAs and picking up The Eight Doctors for the first time. It's not quite as big a step down as that momentous event must have been, but it is a step down; let's make no bones about it.
Firstly, it's readily apparent that these books are pitched at a younger reading age than the EDAs and PDAs were. The language is more sparse, the descriptions more brief. There's very little lead-in to the story. If Target were ever to novelise the new series episodes, then I think that this is what they would read like. This is not necessarily a bad thing if handled properly, but it does sit a little uneasily next to the recent EDAs. This is Doctor Who Fiction Lite.
Secondly, there's a lot of peculiar emphasis, or over-emphasis, or repetition. The reader is fairly beaten over the head with various different aspects of the story to the extent whereby they lose impact or grow irritating. For one thing, Justin Richards so overdoes the descriptions and encounters with the cat(s) right from their first appearance that the later revelation that they are in some way significant to the plot comes as no surprise whatsoever (indeed, I'd even guessed the precise way in which they were significant long before the villain of the piece delivers an "I'll-tell-you-everything-as-you're-about-to-die-anyway" bit of exposition towards the end). Rose comments with monotonous regularity on how different the London skyline looks without the London Eye, presumably in some sort of attempt to tie it in with the first episode of the new series. The Doctor's repeated attempts to use the sonic screwdriver only to realise when it doesn't work that the battery has been removed over and over again rapidly grows stale, unless Richards is poking gentle fun at the fact that the sonic screwdriver has been badly overused and become little more than a Gallifreyan magic wand during the new series.
Thirdly, the villain is rather obvious from early on. The name of the story itself is a bit of a giveaway (The Clockwise Man, featuring a man called Wyse... hmm, wonder who the bad guy could be? Surely calling the book The Clockwork Man might have been a bit better, and have clearer connections with certain parts of the plot?). The misdirection with Melissa Heart that runs for about two-thirds of the book is obvious from pretty early on too (and her sharing a homonymic name with the lead actress of Sabrina the Teenage Witch doesn't help matters).
Fourthly, there's a lot recycled from the new series itself. The London Eye (Rose). Rose suggesting that the Doctor change his clothes to suit the period and the Doctor dismissively responding that he's changed his shirt (The Unquiet Dead). Running up and down the banks of the Thames looking for alien menaces (Rose again). Big Ben (The Empty Child). Spaceships being hidden in the Thames (Aliens of London). The Doctor and Rose cut off from the TARDIS for the majority of the story (Father's Day). The near-unstoppable mechanical men that attack and chase the Doctor and Rose are vaguely reminiscent of the inhuman gas-masked figures from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. There's even a young boy who's vital to the plot (though in a totally different way to TEC/TDD, so mentioning that one might just be a little disingenuous).
Fifthly, the Doctor's characterisation. It doesn't feel terribly accurate. Of course at the time the book was written there certainly wasn't a lot to go on, so it feels a bit like the 8th Doctor's customary joie de vivre delivered with deliberately colloquialised dialogue to emphasise the 9th Doctor's northern everyman-ness (though this is nowhere near as annoying as it was in The Love Invasion, the 9th Doctor's DWM comic strip debut). Admittedly it's not a terribly jarring change, but at times the 8th Doctor did seem to fit the dialogue and actions in my mind more than the 9th did. Nor does the Doctor appear to be particularly anxious to tidy up after the events of the story when there are some things that frankly need tidying. And towards the end there's a rather ridiculous bout of fisticuffs between the Doctor and the main villain while the Doctor tries to stop him from blowing up London, which results in various people asking the Doctor for advice and guidance, and him dispensing it, while rolling around scuffling on the floor for no less than four pages.
However, it's not all bad. The character of Repple is well thought out and actually has one of the few surprising revelations of the whole book. The young boy, Freddie, is extremely well done for a ten-year-old child and his characterisation is one of the book's real strengths, with his role in the story being both believably written and quite touching. Rose's characterisation fares a little better than the Doctor's, particularly towards the end. The book makes reasonable use of its period London setting. The dialogue is significantly better than the author's narrative or action sequences. But ultimately these cannot save the book from being a lot of shouting and running about between lots of well-signposted plot points that are nowhere near as shocking or subtle as they like to think that they are.
The Clockwise Man is not an awful book - the reputations of The Eight Doctors, War and Legacy of the Daleks, The Ghosts of N-Space, Divided Loyalties and Escape Velocity have nothing to worry about there by any means - but at best it can be described as mediocre. As the first book in a new range, it should have been much better, though of course it does have a rather good new series to back it up. It feels as though Justin Richards tried to write it as an episode of the new series, rather than as a novel; its plot might well have worked better as an episode, but as a book it just feels a bit flat and obvious, especially after some of the recent EDA novels. Judging The Clockwise Man on its own merits, months after the new series has come to an end and the all-pervading high of shiny new Doctor Who has started to wear off, it's a decidedly average run-around that's somewhat lazily written. It could, and should, have been better.
Review by Valedictorian