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Doctor Who: The Indestructible Man (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback)) Paperback – January 4, 2005
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Commander Hal Bishop, who has always expected a second attack by the Myloki, readies his group, SILOET, for battle. He's captured a man who should be dead, but recovers from his "fatal" wounds over a six month period. Bishop has seen only one other person similar to this and he's the Indestructible Man. Are the two somehow connected?
When will the Myloki strike? Where is Zoe? What happened to Jamie? Can the Doctor make sense of it all before the Myloki destroy Earth? You'll have to read Simon Messingham's book in order to find out.
In this tale, Messingham is giving a nod to the marionette creations of Gerry Anderson (think "Thunderbirds"). If you aren't familiar with Anderson's work, however, you're enjoyment of this book will not be hindered. For those in the know, I'm sure you'll pick up on the inside joke. It will also make your visualization of the tale a lot funnier when you picture the Doctor and everyone else dangling from strings.
Despite this bit of light humor, though, "The Indestructible Man" has a very, very dark quality to it. Messingham takes Zoe and Jamie to depths of their respective characters that just might make fans of the classic series shudder. Zoe and Jamie enter realms of their own minds that make them both terribly human. Out of their own time, alone, confused and scared, they go where no companion has gone before.
When Zoe finally catches up to the Doctor, she somewhat returns to her old ways. In fact, she becomes almost too normal after what she goes through in the book. Jamie on the other hand, takes a very disturbing turn that makes you wonder if he'll ever be the same again. Much like Zoe, though, when he does return to his normal mindset, it happens almost too easily.
"The Indestructible Man" is one of the darkest tales I've ever encountered in the Doctor Who universe. Messingham's portrayal of the Doctor is excellent and he builds up a number of the secondary characters to excellent levels also. Loyal fans of Zoe and Jamie might be turned off by the dark shadows cast upon their characters, but give the story a little bit of time and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
I highly recommend this book to fans of the original and new Doctor Who series. Fans of Gerry Anderson might also get a kick out of this. Despite a small font size that's crammed into too few book pages, this story reads very quickly and is not at all boring. Overall, a good read.
Gerry Anderson, for those who don't know, was a British gentlemen responsible for the creation of a number of SF TV shows that were aired in the sixties and seventies, series like "Thunderbirds", "Captain Scarlet" (both involving puppet characters, marionettes) and the later live-action "UFO" and "Space: 1999". Many are remembered fondly even today and influences show up in the oddest places (notably in the South Park guys marionette movie "Team America: World Police") and many a child who grew up during the "Doctor Who" years of television has quite a bit of Gerry Anderson-based TV under his or her belt as well.
As all of it was before my time, I've never seen any of those shows except in brief clips and so in theory a book like this should be absolutely lost on me. But the author manages to write an actual plot while simultaneously slathering references to those shows in every possible nook and cranny so that even if all the references go over my head (and they did, although I was aware they WERE references) I can still enjoy the story for what it is.
And what it is, is dark. We begin super in media res, with the earth having survived thirty years ago a war with the alien Myloki, who are never seen but are capable of taking over other human beings and turning them into zombie-like killers. In the process of doing that they also changed two other men into indestructible people, one of whom stayed a remorseless killing machine and the other was eventually broken free of his conditioning and helped end the war. In the wake of everything being broken, the secret organization went underground and basically bides its time making sure the aliens don't come back. Into this bumble a daffy older man in hobo clothing, while his Scotsman companion and fetching young future girl. Things go away and the older guy is shot in the head, while the others escape. End of story, perhaps, except that the older guy gets better, which makes them wonder if this new indestructible man is the advent of a new invasion.
A story like this could probably only have been told with the Second Doctor, combining everyone's favorite star of bases under siege with a globe-trotting adventure sense, fighting against entrenched military minds before gradually turning them over to his way of thinking. Normally a story like this would have the thin veneer of "It's only children's SF" and play the game by making it a breezy romp and a drinking game of "spot the references" before wrapping it all up neatly.
The author doesn't do that here, instead going right for the jugular immediately. Not only is the Doctor shot in the head, he decides to run Jamie and Zoe, everyone's favorite pair of youthful time-traveling heroes, through the wringer something fierce. Zoe is put in a slave situation of constantly doing the maths before falling in love and having her heart broken in the space of about twenty pages, while Jamie gets the even shorter end of the stick and basically goes mad thinking that the Doctor is dead. It becomes almost alarming at several points seeing how far the author pushes the characters and st times it's difficult to reconcile the memory of cheery and petite Wendy Padbury on TV with the book's images of her both contemplating and attempting suicide. Jamie fares even worse, not only coming close to killing people at several points but turning savage and even mutilating someone in an attempt to escape. But despite the disturbing lengths the characters go, on the one hand it's actually gripping to read someone attempting to do something with these people as opposed to just coasting on our memories of them. Sometimes when reading the Past Doctor Adventures, it feels like you're reading the actor's just putting their paces through a script instead of seeing the characters as people being put in stressful situations. This trends more toward the latter for once and it's welcome, coming closer to the more adult sensibilities of the New Adventures and how they treated Ace, using the TV models as a starting point and extrapolating from there.
It doesn't entirely work because the author has to hit the reset button toward the end. It's easier to swallow with Zoe, who pushes past her grief to get the job done but Jamie is put in such an extreme situation that his switch back to (relative) normalcy feels like the book straining to paint itself out of its own corner in order to make him useful for the finale and not a raving psychotic lunatic. But prior to that it's exciting to be in unpredictable territory, where we're not exactly sure how the story is going to go.
In other hands this could have been a stultifying experience, smothering us with wave upon wave of dark seriousness where the whole point of the story was to be gritty for the sake of gritty. But the world that all this is happening in is so well constructed that it feels like an extension of events instead of an excuse to have terrible things happen to nice people for three hundred pages. Everything works in reaction to something else, as defense or paranoia and with the history of the war hanging over everything it creates a framework that allows the world to feel lived-in, even if it is slapped together with the spare parts of someone else's TV shows. The scope of it helps, instead of existing in a single base, we're taken to all difference corners of the world to solve the mystery and the tension between people afraid of what's going to happen versus the urgency of what's really happening gives the scenes a pace that helps pull it along. Keeping the aliens out of sight helps immensely and while that's a trope stolen from both "Captain Scarlet" and "UFO" it keeps the focus on the the terrible things that people do to themselves and each other when they're afraid. It also elevates the aliens to a more mysterious level, keeping them involved and distant and seeming more much dangerous for that. If they were typical "we-will-take-over-the-earth" beings, the story wouldn't have worked as well and the ending wouldn't have had whatever poetry it does.
As much as this story doesn't seem to need the Doctor at all, it's the kind of tale where the Second Doctor thrives, and he has usual arc of starting out as an outsider before practically running the whole show by the end. The story does the smart thing of skewing the portrayal to the "wolf in sheep's clothing" aspect of his personality, not focusing as much on the humor and reminding us again what later appearances would make us forget with all the giddy aunts and the recorder playing, that the Second Doctor was more dangerous than he seemed.
In a way this story probably worked better for me, having no experience with any of the Gerry Anderson shows I could enjoy the story for what it is . . . there's so many references to old settings and plots that anyone with a good knowledge of "UFO" is probably going to know how the plot is going to go. Does it go too far? In parts the references become a bit much, like he was in a contest to see how much he could cram in. The constant barrage of acronyms threatens to dissipate what seriousness has occurred and bits like the purple wigs (a "UFO" thing apparently) feels like the book trying to have it both ways, with a wink and a "please take this seriously". The appearance of the analogues for the Thunderbirds comes out of nowhere, to the point where I thought I missed something. But everyone else the story is more or less spot on and manages to make a dark tribute to a series of children's shows through the lens of "Doctor Who", which involves so many gyrations that I'm impressed it's even readable. And it is, and what's more, it's one of the better Past Doctor Adventures, showing once again how as the series was winding down, they started to take more chances and subsequently, started to get it right.