30 March 2015

MA: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Where do I start? This was one of the nineties Missing Adventures, and frankly I wish it'd stayed missing. In it, the First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on a planet exactly like the world of old English fairytales, complete with dragons, elves and wizards. 

I really hate all that stuff. It just doesn't appeal to me at all. So I found this a real struggle to get through. It doesn't help that it's so poorly written, with almost nothing to engage the reader at all. Bulis tries to expand his story by throwing in a dull subplot about some offworlders, but it feels mostly like an excuse to pad out what's already a tracing paper-thin plot. 

The regulars are all completely off key throughout too. Barbara gets the square root of sod all to do (she does some research in a library, realises an inconsistency 100 pages later, tells the Doctor three pages before the end of the book, only to discover he'd already worked it out). That's perhaps the most frustrating thing about this novel, from a detached, clinical point of view: it all comes to nothing. The main commander of the space fleet doesn't arrive on Avalon until after the plot's over, all the various quests are fruitless and potentially interesting characters are proved time and again to be anything but. 

Part of the transparency of Bulis' setup is how long everything takes to wind down - literally the whole second half of the book is dedicated to it. We're told the resolution about a third of the way through, and even though there's a "twist" revelation, one character talks and acts so much like one he's just killed, you wonder why they bothered including it at all. The style of the book is so sloppy too, with personalities varying from chapter to chapter and no kind of consistency of speech pattern either. None of the regulars feel authentic and Bulis really doesn't have a handle on the world he's trying to replicate. No one is believable from start to finish, and throw in all that bloody fairy stuff, and you've got one pig's ear of a novel. 

To give credit where it's due, the start, which I imagine is supposed to replicate those of Season One, isn't bad. The TARDIS crew explore their new locale, and are hunted by a creature. It's not that engaging, but it's harmless enough. But then a dragon and a dashing knight rear their equally ugly heads and the eye rolling begins. 

The Doctor and Susan apparently master magic, which is never really explained, and we're told nanobots are responsible for the whole sorry affair. Ian doesn't do much but at least he leaves the bloody castle. It's a complete mystery to me why Bulis set this at such a specific point (about 30 seconds after Marco Polo) as nothing is made of the placement. It seems to be utter fanwank, and characterisations of the regulars are also at odds with this placement too.

I don't want to be outright rude here and say this is unredeemable crap, but at the same time I found it a real slog to make it to 20%, let alone the rest of it - and there was very little to enjoy, I found. I tried to keep up with which creatures were which for the first half, but found I just couldn't. You'd probably be fine if you had a good working knowledge of fairytale creatures, but I (quite happily) don't. Instead I have friends. A lot of the characters seemed interchangeable - species aside - and most act and talk in stereotype alone. Bulis doesn't give any characters even a morsel of initiative either, preferring to let them blunder on predictably. Equally off putting is how much characters take in their stride. Ships crash and are attacked by giant sea monsters with next to no reaction, making the reader feel even less engaged. When even the people about to die don't seem to give a shit, why should I?

Coming off the back of Steve Cole's excellent The Monsters Inside, The Sorcerer's Apprentice probably suffers quite a lot but that doesn't mean I think I'm being unfair. Both are set between 2500 and 3000 in expanding colonies of Earth's empire, but I know which I'd rather read again - by an astrological mile. Marks awarded for this are for the rather bland but inoffensive and uninspiring opening and the average cover (which spoils one of the book's "mysteries"). What makes the whole thing worse is that it seems like Bulis has put a lot of effort into this; it doesn't feel like he's just dashed it out. Unfortunately, that doesn't raise the quality at all - it's dire, protracted beyond belief and almost impressively unengaging. 

If you tend to agree with my reviews, I'd steer well clear of this. Props to Bulis for picking the Hartnell era though - this kind of experimentation would be more at home in Season Three. 

However, I quite like Season Three, while this was bloody awful. A complete waste of my time. 

In a Nutshell: I hope I never have to read this again. Fantastical, overlong and badly constructed, this is one of the dullest books I've ever slogged through. Oh look, some dishwater.

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