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The Year of Intelligent Tigers (Doctor Who) Mass Market Paperback – July, 2001
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As an interesting aside, her name is solely credited on the cover but in the acknowledgements she notes that husband Jonathan Blum did a not-indecent amount of work on the book and the inside "About the Author" blurbs credit him as well. It doesn't really matter except for those out there keeping score for who did what, but I thought it was curious. Maybe his contributions came after the cover was printed.
This novel takes the merry TARDIS crew over to Hitchemus, where people live content and create music all day while romping around with the friendly and cuddly "tigers" that roam the planet. A native species, they seem at first to be docile and a bit dense, although that quickly proves to be otherwise, hence the title. And very quickly what started out as an idyllic vacation becomes a matter of the Doctor trying to keep the two sides apart until he can figure out some way of bringing them together without killing each other. Ideally through the healing power of song.
As it was probably somewhat clear earlier, I'm a fan of Orman's "Who" work and this novel has plenty to recommend it. For one, we get to see the crew relaxing in a more natural setting, with Anji finally settling in to randomly exploring time and space and striking up more of a friendship with Fitz. It's rare that we get to see the characters exploring their own hobbies and interests instead of being chased or trying to figure out how to stay alive, acting as some kind of weird family brought together by grudging affection and enforced hardship. The idea of the tigers is intriguing and even if I don't totally buy into their biology, it never entirely comes across as being contrived. The whole novel in fact has a very relaxed feel to it, even when people are in the midst of danger.
And that may be a problem with the book . . . events never feel urgent. The characterizations are consistently brilliant but given that we're in a world that is beginning to enter a state of weather crisis (storms and hurricanes are kicking up more often) and there's all these giant cats running around alternating between going about their business and acting belligerent, things never feel all that breathless. Part of it may be that Orman does her job too well . . . the tigers all do exist as fully fledged characters but at the same time never feel as utterly alien as perhaps they should. We're reminded time and time that they're only called tigers because of the resemblance to Earth tigers, yet they often act like talking tigers that you'd find in "The Jungle Book". It also doesn't help that both sides are at times completely reasonable. That may be part of the point (indeed the biggest conflict is what side the Doctor will back) but it makes for poor conflict because you want both sides to win since they seem perfectly nice. But since both sides are so reasonable, any conflicts that do come down feel somewhat contrived, a chance just to get a fight scene in or create some drama. Everyone just sits around discussing how they're going to overcome the problem at hand and then generally go out to do what they just discussed. It's really quite genteel.
But if you're like me you're probably not reading this book to give yourself sweaty palms but for the depictions of the characters. And boy, she succeeds. Not only do we get the best Fitz we've seen in a long while (one who finally acts like the experienced time traveller that he is, and not just bumbling around waiting for the Doctor to correct his course) but we get to explore Anji's latent mistrust of the Doctor. The tigers are all nuanced, maybe not alien enough for my tastes but a darn sight better than what we've got in the past.
And the Doctor. Oh boy. Since he lost his memory the writers seem to be having some disagreement on how exactly to portray him, with most of them settling on making him just like he was before, without all those references to Gallifrey or past adventures. Here she gets to the heart of it, as he forges ahead in his personality, not entirely sure who he is but learning how he wants to be from the remnants of what was left behind in his mind. We see a Doctor finally with a strong moral viewpoint that can be actually articulated, someone who is acutely aware that he stands apart but still wants to meddle so that everyone gets along. The climax of the novel is a thing of beauty, just a series of perfectly constructed moments culminating in what a moment that not only feels like a "Doctor" moment but an "Eighth Doctor" moment, something that only this incarnation could give us. Most anyone can write a generic Doctor but each Doctor when done properly has a moment where it could have only happened with that particular Doctor . . . we get one of those here and that's one of the highest compliments I can pay a "Who" author.
What this novel lacks in breakneck pacing it makes up for in sheer life-affirming zeal and a moral core that that never wavers. This Doctor might have forgotten who he is, but he hasn't forgotten what he's about and that comes across in a portrayal that is both funny and scary, thrilling and saddening, rousing and pensive. There are more than a few moments in here that probably only Orman could have pulled off in tone and subtlety and it's a testament to her skill that she can take the concept of alien big cats and musicians and not only make it work but make it matter, not just to the series, but to us as well.
This is a much more in-depth and demanding novel than the previous three in the EDA range, and it's all that much more rewarding. Once the plot kicks in, it drives the action in a relaxed, yet steady pace. Several wonderful set pieces space out the more story-driven sequences and provide us with numerous memorable images. The Eighth Doctor works incredibly well as a sort of mad violinist, and it's great to see him putting his passion towards something other than running around quickly. The musical references invade every part of the book, from the structure to the dialogue to the tone. The mentions are plentiful, but never clumsy, and are slipped in with a lot of care.
The society of tigers is quite well realized and there is a genuine sense of mystery and anticipation as more and more of their culture and history is slowly revealed. I won't give away too much, but there are some great surprises contained in these sections. Numerous Doctor Who clichés are borrowed from, but they are all given a new twist. In some ways the basic plot resembles older stories and serials, but every time you think you know how the story will unfold, it cleverly takes a different step, defying expectation at most turns. Such familiarity in the beginning and middle sections helps to emphasize how inventive and unexpected the ending really is. The Doctor's solution is exactly what he has been working towards for the entirety of the book, but the execution of this plan is quite interesting.
The tigers (though the story points out that they merely resemble Earth tigers, and are, in fact, an alien life-form) are characterized quite interestingly, slightly better than the individual humans are. Since we've seen hundreds of Earth colonies over the years, more time is spent building up the tiger society and so they get the lion's share of the attention. The regulars get quite a lot to do as well. Anji is really starting to come into her own as a companion. Here she's organized and resourceful, yet suspicious of the actions of other people. Without Fitz's experience, she's not quite sure where this Doctor fellow's loyalties really lie. It isn't overdone though, and it really helps to drive the action along. There is a great attention to detail present; every character's motivations are understandable and believable. No one acts merely for the sake of convenience.
THE YEAR OF INTELLIGENT TIGERS is a great book, giving the Doctor a lot to solve, Anji a lot to angst over, and Fitz a lot to be frightened of. As someone who isn't terribly familiar with a lot of classical music, I suspect that there were a few references that went over my head, but the musical flavour and tone of the story is maintained quite well. Extra mention should be made of the historical flashbacks to Doctor's one hundred year exile to Earth. These are two of the best portions of the book, and makes one wish that the Ormanblum entity had also written a book during that particular story arc. In any case, TIGERS is one of the better EDAs and is a welcome addition to the current unfolding story.