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August 07, 2008

The Stranger

Stranger Surprise.

If ever a review on this blog was going to live up to the warning “Intended for mature readers only” it’s this one, and to be honest if I hadn’t read on the Wikipedia that Lance Parkin referred to some of the characters, albeit as an in-joke, in the next book Father Time, I wouldn’t a touched this with the Bargepole of Rassilon.  In writing the erotic novel, The Stranger, for Virgin Books’s Black Lace imprint, writer Portia Da Costa decided that she liked the Eighth Doctor enough that she’d use him as the main object of feminine desire and cast the timelord to fit within this very human story by making him an amnesiac (sound familiar).  This was published in 1997 just after the in-aptly named Virgin had lost their Who license and this offered an interesting way to sneak a further ‘adventure’ in under the TARDIS door. 

Claudia, a recent widow is surprised one day when she discovers a buff young man taking a skinny-dip in the lake on her land.  She prays that he’ll find his way to her big house, which he unsurprisingly does, bedecked in an Edwardian frock coat, covered in bruises and claiming to have lost his memory.  His only point of identity is a small note which says his name is Paul.  She takes him in, and after a doctor friend, Beatrice, gives him an examination, ‘Paul’ moves in with her.  Not long afterwards, her best friend Melody, leaves her husband and she moves in too.  Then there’s a fancy dress party and the truth of who this male house guest might be is stunningly revealed on television.  It’s not the most complex of plots, I’m sure you’ll agree and there’s a fairly obvious reason for that.

The Stranger is essentially Doctor Who Discovers The Joy of Sex, the unofficial nether regions of that most flexible of franchises touching on pornography.  As the back of the book proclaims this is ‘erotic fiction written by women for women’ and there’s people pleasure right the way through.  On page six there’s a description of something I’d never expect the Doctor to do and that’s pretty much the story on page nine, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, an educational cornucopia of images which though admittedly initially interesting do rapidly become repetitious; the family series equivalent is watching Tom and Lalla or Leela being captured and held in a cell and then escaping, over and over and over again for six episodes.  I'm no prude but there are things here it's going to take years of rewatching the Pertwee era to dislodge. 

No sexual barriers in evidence either; Captain Jack’s probably got a copy of this on the shelf in his bunk, disappointed slightly that one of the combinations doesn't include a tentacle.  In places it's quite an engagingly written book at least in relation to some of the characterisation especially Claudia, though having not read any other female erotic fiction for obvious reasons I'm hardly in a position to offer a bench mark as to whether the authors simply beefing up (if you'll pardon the expression) what are usually nothing more than cyphers.  Someone called Clifford in Weymouth gave it three stars at Amazon though he's (!) clearly unaware of the Who connection and suggests that this is actually quite tame stuff. 

Which a bit of an eye-opener, because at one point I began to wonder if Claudia’s sudden overwhelming desire to shag her best friend, GP, colleague from work and of course ‘Paul’ would be revealed to some kind of Torchwood-style alien intrusion or the inhibition softening virus from Star Trek’s The Naked Time finding a foothold in Oxfordshire.  But depending on how open minded you are this is very far from actually being proper science fiction and maddeningly, just to spoil the ending for you, it’s revealed that Paul might well be human after all, though if you are so inclined there’s nothing in there, other than his propensity to ‘dance’ to suggest that this isn’t what he was getting up to between Endgame and Father Time, trying the mortal life after regaining his sense of purpose whilst battling the Players.

I suspect that’s just wishful thinking having spent the best part of an hour this eveing reading and another hour and a half skipping through the book.  Da Costa does include a couple of amusing nods to the franchise, a bit of Puccini here, a chapter title there.  And it can’t be denied that even when he’s acting in an entirely untimelordy way, she does capture the Doctor’s voice as well as most of the official Eighth chroniclers.  But ultimately, despite an exciting news post at Outpost Gallifrey a few years ago to signal its reprinting, there’s not much for the average fan to see here, unless I suspect you’re already someone who enjoys reading this kind of fiction, in which case you’re in for a bonus.  Or fifty-seven.

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