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December 21, 2008

"This is a really inefficient and melodramatic way of killing one person, even if that person is me."

Eyeless I’m well on record as being something of a fan of Lance Parkin’s Doctor Who books.  The Dying Days helped to define the fundamentals of the Eighth Doctor and his later Father Time I described on here as “awesome” and “one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.  Period…” so the idea of the author writing a Tenth Doctor novel is a tantalising prospect.  Unlike most of the other novels in the range, it’s impossible to read this without any preconceived notions.  For the past nine months Parkin has been keeping blog, in which he’s described the processes of writing The Eyeless (no spoilers!), from commission through to publication.

So as I sat down on the train with these two hundred and forty odd pages I had a fair few questions.  How would he really cope with the all too restrictive but necessary rules regarding content and particularly continuity?  Would this still read like a Lance Parkin novel or would he, like many of the other writers, find themselves ultimately subsumed by the format and produce something that could have anyone’s name printed on the cover?  Would I be able to see how he reorganised the structure of the second half? Some answers below, though for those who want to skip the rest of the review until they’ve read the book I will say that Parkin has yet again delivered, with a story that intrigues and excites and even if you’ve not read one of these novels before, this is one to make time for.

Parkin is all too aware that when fans see his name below the title they expect a different kind of story and he doesn’t want to disappoint them, but he also has to produce something which can be picked up by the general audience who doesn’t give a toss who he is and are just looking for a good story.  Parkin has gamely offers a middle ground, producing a story which has many of the elements you’d expect in one of these novels but with the kind of twist he’s known for so that The Eyeless becomes something which is totally unlike any of those books and yet containing elements which could only be achieved in prose, both challenging the format of these novels, but always in an accessible way.

The Doctor already has his game face when he lands near this Arcopolis, on a mission to deactivate the deadly weapon at its heart of its fortress so there’s none of the usual fumbling around trying to justify his cause. He’s without companion, but instead of introducing a one off, an Astrid-Peth-alike as an exposition magnet, he seeps the timelord’s observations of this charred world in the prose, producing a near stream of conscience which puts the reader in the traditional companion role, giving the events great immediacy.  When he first meets the fragments of humanity who survived the first devastation, it’s through their children, who’re about as impressed by this stranger as the cast of the Star Trek episode Miri were by the crew of the Enterprise, relying on a similar kind of taunting and casual violence.

casual violence 

The rest of the book is structured in this simplistic style, the timelord’s indomitable journey to the Fortress forever interrupted somehow by this outpost of humanity who, like the passengers of the shuttle bus in Midnight simply can’t be convinced that the he knows best because he’s clever.  But knowing there are survivors, the Doctor’s first instinct is to continue on his journey, the weapon’s potential effect on the universe more important than these few lost souls, Parkin wonderfully capturing his head full of stuff and that he can see the cause and effect of the universe, time constantly in flux, almost feel galaxies forming.  Through the humans the author also offers some entertaining discussion about the relevance of culture in this kind of situation, of whether education should be set aside in favour of breeding and perpetuating the species.

His best creations are the titular alien threat, the Eyeless, a translucent alien race that would be impossible to convincingly portray on screen no matter how many man (or woman) hours The Mill set aside in the attempt.  Their secrets are one of the intrigues at the heart of the book so it would unfair to give too much away, except to say that Parkin uses them to enrich our understanding of why the Doctor travels the universe, contrasting how he experiences a new culture and situation with the the Eyeless’s less than benign processes.  Of the human characters, it’s these children who are best developed, naturally smart enough to understand the implications of their own existence and the personality politics being conducted between the adults, all vying to imprint their mark on the future of their race.  Kids should love that.

Kids should love that.

As ever with these shorter form novels, there’s little more that can be said without ruining all of its delights.  Despite Parkin’s reservations about continuity references, there are a couple which will have McGann fans punching the air again, and I agree with him, I can’t believe he got away with the second paragraph on page forty-six and you won’t either.  When I read it, my eyes fittingly nearly popped out my skull.  If the conclusion is complicated to the point of confusion, I think it has more to do with the situation than the clarity of the author’s prose, which is never less than lucid, as we discover that there’s more to the Fortress than meets the eye.    As the Doctor nears his goal, everything snaps back into focus and in one of the Tenth Doctor’s best ever scenes in any media, we’re reminded again of the decisions he has to make, and their cost, and that we should never underestimate his ability to see the bigger picture.

The Eyeless, by Lance Parkin, is released by BBC Books on 26th December 2008. 9781846075629.

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